Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights

By Christine Knauer | Go to book overview

Introduction

When Grant Reynolds volunteered for the army at the beginning of the Second World War, he did so with much patriotism and high hopes. He wanted to support the nation’s cause and believed in the necessity of the mission to halt fascism across the globe. But he was also convinced that he could make a difference for his African American comrades and improve their position in and outside the military. Born in 1908, Reynolds had already made a name for himself as a civil rights activist in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a reverend in the Mount Zion Congregational Temple and president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His service as a chaplain in the armed forces, he thought, would be another opportunity for him to fight for the black cause and strengthen black soldiers in their daily struggles with segregation and discrimination in the military. While preparing soldiers for war stateside, the outspoken chaplain became their confidant and spiritual advisor, as he shared their experiences. Even as an officer, he faced frequent prejudice and acts of humiliation. He was barred from living or eating with white officers. To uphold strict segregation of the races, the army built a separate living quarter just for the black chaplain.1

The absurdity and brutality of the system of laws and customs lumped under the label “Jim Crow” emboldened Reynolds to revolt against the oppressive system. Throughout his time in the military, he openly and vigorously demanded desegregation and equal treatment of black recruits. His commitment earned him respect among black soldiers, but also incurred the army’s wrath. By transferring him from one base to the other, they tried to silence him for his relentless activism. In 1944, the army chose a more effective and permanent way to rid itself of Reynolds. Based on a questionable psychiatric evaluation that described him as showing “paranoid trends” and “being involved in affairs that are none of his business,” he

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Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Fighting for Respect 13
  • Chapter 2 - Coming Home 33
  • Chapter 3 - Stepping Up the Fight 55
  • Chapter 4 - Mass Civil Disobedience 82
  • Chapter 5 - Truman’s Order 112
  • Chapter 6 - A Country They Never Knew 130
  • Chapter 7 - Black Men at War 163
  • Chapter 8 - A Mixed Army 195
  • Epilogue 224
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms 231
  • Notes 235
  • Index 329
  • Acknowledgments 339
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