War! What Is It Good for? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq

By Kimberley L. Phillips | Go to book overview

3
Glory on the Battlefield
The Korean War, Cold War Civil Rights, and the
Paradox of Black Military Service

In 1948, eighteen-year-old Ivory Perry accepted whatever job he found in and around Pine Bluff, Arkansas. After his mother died and his father migrated, he turned to an older sister and her husband for help. Frustrated that he earned so little to contribute to the household and his own care, he left high school and looked for full-time work. Besides picking cotton, Perry and a cousin found only low-wage jobs. Discouraged, the two young men went to the local recruiting office and enlisted in the army; they then immediately traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. There they joined hundreds of other black enlistees, including many unemployed veterans of World War II. The military provided steady income and “room and board,” Perry reasoned.1

Many young black men made similar choices as they assessed their limited economic and social prospects in postwar America. In Indiana, seventeen-year-old Arthur Rucker boasted to his friends that the army “got better schools, offers travel, and career training that will make your country head swim.” He reserved special praise for his new uniform: “The U.S. Army provides these sharp threads to its men—dig me!” Fourteen-yearold Willie Ruff listened with rapt attention. Born in northwest Alabama, Ruff followed his father to Indiana as he searched for work. Hungry, Ruff

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