American History-Civil Rights
During the years 1939 to 1953 the United States armed forces changed a policy of restricting and segregating the Negro into one that had equal opportunity and integration.This revolution took a great deal of time and struggle.Throughout American history the blacks in America considered their military service in the nation’s conflicts as proof of their loyalty and as a brief for their claim to full citizenship.
At the same time white Americans appear to have realized this, and they always sought to restrict or reduce the black soldier’s military service.
The national armed forces always were the most integrated major segment of American life. Therefore, the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces has become truly a social revolution in American history. The extent of the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces was discussed several years ago and remains actual among historians to this day. The purpose of this study is to describe and evaluate the debate among historians concerning the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces and the Negro’s reaction to this policy. In reaching this goal, the paper will also shed some light on American race relations during these years.
With the World War II crisis of 1939-1945, the questions of restriction, discrimination, and segregation in the United States armed forces became one of two major problems for black Americans. Employment discrimination was also important, and this subject has been examined by historians. Although employment discrimination was the chief everyday issue for Negroes in World War II, discrimination and segregation in the United States armed forces was the more emotionally charged issue. Most historians claim that a black “revolution” or “revolt” occurred in 1954, 1955, 1960, or 1963.
Silberman (1964) writes that segregation was necessary to stop bloody racial conflict and a reduction of the armed services’ potency. Silberman is one of the spiciest critics of American race relations. In his book Crisis in Black and White, he reminded Americans that the United States “is a racist society in a sense and to a degree that we have refused so far to admit, much less face” (9-10). In 1950, members of the Court obtained evidence from the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services prior to some important decisions that pointed toward a reversal of the separate but equal position.
In 1954, before the important decision on desegregation, members of the Court read in manuscript form journalist Lee Nichols’ Breakthrough on the Color Front (1954), the first book-length account of military integration. Usually North Carolinians – at least most white North Carolinians – tend to look back at the years 1939 to 1953 and their adjustment to changing times with pride. But historians reporting progress in the South seldom give North Carolina high marks.
Writer Roland (1984) in his book on the South since World War II writes with considerable disappointment because the southern state with the best race relations prior to the Brown decision failed to lead the region in the integration of blacks into society after 1954. In his study of southern governors and desegregation, Horton (1960) expresses a similar disappointment. The writer observes that North Carolina escaped much of the demagoguery characteristic of several neighboring states because Tar Heel governors tried to keep the peace and found local solutions to racial problems.
On a contradictory note, however, Silberman (1964) calls the Patriots of North Carolina as a “sedate version” of the Citizens Council and attributes to the Patriots and their successors, the North Carolina Defenders of States’ Rights, the names of some of the “most respected men of North Carolina” (14). From the beginning of a military tradition in America, black manpower has been used for military aims. Most of historians (Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution; Dudley Taylor Cornish , The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865; Robert J.
Dwyer, ” The Negro in the United States Army: His Changing Role and Status,” Sociology and Social Research; L. D. Reddick, ” The Negro Policy of the United States Army, 1775-1945,” Journal of Negro History) who have investigated the problem have noticed a desire on the part of white Americans to limit the participation of the blacks in military affairs until an emergency or crisis develops. Then black manpower was utilized as a military necessity. Quarles notices that this pattern was established in the colonial militia.
Each colony followed this policy that excluded Negroes as soldiers. Dwyer writes when emergencies such as Indian threats emerged and there was urgent need for manpower, however, most colonies saw fit to overlook these exclusion laws and volunteered Negroes (19). When the Continental Army was created at the beginning of the American Revolution, the black soldiers were excluded. Once more, when white volunteers became harder to find, this policy was changed, and about five thousand Negroes served with the American revolutionary arms.
In The New York Times, Hinton observes that there occurred important changes by the end of World War II that made it more difficult to maintain the racial status quo in America. The ballots of American Negroes had become a powerful political force. The belligerent spirit that matured during the war made Negroes shure to fight segregation wherever it stood in the way of full citizenship. The United States became the leader of the non-Communist world. The race problem was a weakness in its Cold War attempts to influence the emerging nations.
A new President took office in the centre of the changing situation. He realized that the status quo in American society relations had to give way to a new race order. Unlike his forerunner, this President would have found it difficult to take a passive stand on Negro rights even if he had wanted to do so. The race problems in civilian life reached a new peak with the end of war. This was especially true in the South where there was fear that the status quo in race relations would be further upset by the many returning Negro veterans.
In Freedom and Equality: Addresses by Harry S Truman Horton (1960) writes about racial violence and revival of riots in this period. Many people believed that a wave of race riots would begin with a new force in the country as they had after World War I. Among those people who remembered the riots after World War I and who was afraid that they would be repeated was President Harry Truman. Two particularly violent attacks induced President Truman to some significant action in order to protect civil rights. Horton (1960) gives examples of cruelty.
For instance, in February, 1946, Isaac Woodard, a newly discharged veteran still in uniform, was blinded when South Carolina policemen pulled him off a bus and jabbed their night sticks into his eyes. In July, 1946, two Negro veterans and their wives were taken from a car near Monroe, Georgia, by a mob of white men. The four Negroes were lined up and killed by approximately sixty shots pumped into their bodies (12). To stop this kind of violence President Truman created the President’s Committee on Civil Rights on December 6, 1946.
The purpose was to examine the nebulous authority of the Federal Government in the civil rights area and to recommend appropriate legislation. Horton (1960) considers the beliefs on civil rights of this man from Missouri with a Southern heritage. He quotes Truman, “I was raised amidst some violently prejudiced Southerners myself”. Perhaps Truman reflected his own transformation on this matter when he stated his belief that “the vast majority of good southerners understand that the blind prejudices of past generations cannot continue in a free republic.
” Horton says that it is clear that Truman had support from Negro voters as early as 1926. He inherited black support from the Pendergast machine of Kansas City, and he managed to maintain this support throughout his career as a senator (34). At President Truman’s first news conference a Negro one reporter asked him a question – what stand he would take on civil rights matters. Truman replied: “I will give you some advice. All you need to do is to read the Senate record of one Harry S Truman” (Public Papers of the Presidents).
As a candidate for the Vice-Presidency in 1944 Truman had also directed interested persons to his Senate record. Surely he was proud of his position on civil rights. “Without exception,” one student of Truman’s Senate record has concluded, :Senator Truman acted to provide greater protection for minorities and to afford equal treatment under the law” (Horton 14). Truman continually supported antilynching bills. He also signed petitions for cloture and voted for the amendments to the Selective Service Act of 1940 intended to stop discrimination.