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

By Christine Knauer | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Black Men at War

Right from the start of the Korean War, African American newspapers and their war correspondents attempted to emphasize the necessity and advantages of integration. Black soldiers sent to war in integrated outfits would be the ultimate validation of their previous efforts in all wars. In the Courier, columnist Marjorie McKenzie wrote: “They [the headlines in black newspapers] were a proud boast of the non-segregated participation of Negro airmen and naval personnel in South Korea’s defense. Almost nothing could give Negroes a greater sense of belonging to this nation than the right to die for it on a basis of equality and dignity. To be permitted less is to feel less.”1 The story of ensign Jesse L. Brown, in particular, contained everything the leaders of the black community, the black press, and its readership could long for in the midst of war.

Ensign Brown’s time in Korea was as memorable as it was short. As part of an integrated outfit that flew bombing missions near the Chosin Reservoir, the black officer’s plane was shot down and subsequently crashed in enemy territory. Jammed in the plane, he could not free himself. His white comrade, “who knew no barriers of race,” made an emergency landing. “Without regard for his personal safety,” Lt. Thomas J. Hudner2 attempted to free Brown from the plane in vain. Brown died in the burning jet, less than three months after he arrived in Korea in September 1950.3 Both the black and white press picked up the story—it was too good a tale of heroism and sacrifice to ignore.4 Furthermore, black papers capitalized on the story to foster racial pride and antidiscrimination.

Brown epitomized everything the black community hoped a black soldier would be. He had one of the most dangerous jobs in the war. According to reports, his record was flawless and only death could stop him from

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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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