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

By Christine Knauer | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Fighting for Respect

For A. Philip Randolph, it was a fight with “gloves off.”1 The black labor leader was no longer willing to accept the mistreatment African Americans experienced on a daily basis. Long before America’s direct involvement in the Second World War, Randolph was among the many African Americans who vehemently articulated their growing impatience and dissatisfaction with their social and political status in the United States. The war created millions of new jobs, especially in war industries. But despite the need for workers in all lines of work, discrimination and segregation continued. Moreover, the military intended to uphold segregation based on the discriminatory and oppressive “separate but equal” doctrine. African Americans now advocated most vigorously for a modification of employment regulations to ensure equal employment opportunities for blacks and the desegregation of the armed services. They attempted to capitalize on the correlations between segregation at home and fascist oppression abroad. In the light of the vastly growing criticism of fascism, their demands seemed more pressing than ever before. Racism in the armed forces, according to the African American Carolina Times, was “downright dumbness” in an international war in which Americans wanted to distinguish themselves as a democratic country.2 Blacks’ frustration grew, spurring their activism against the perpetuation of inequality.3

In an attempt to push President Franklin D. Roosevelt to improve the lot of African Americans and make America live up to its own standards, Randolph founded the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), one of the most prominent and groundbreaking grassroots movements at the time. He was convinced that a mass demonstration in Washington would

-13-

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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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