Patriotism Crosses the Color Line: African Americans in World War II


The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s largest black newspapers, led the struggle for racial equality by launching in 1942 its “Double V” campaign: two interlocking Vs with the theme “Democracy: Victory at home, Victory Abroad.” The campaign’s goal was to encourage blacks to support the war effort but fight for civil rights.

The Double V campaign became a part of popular culture. In its February 14, 1943, edition, the Courier began to feature photos of pretty young women labeled the “Double V girls.” They were college educated and usually artistically talented. The paper also had photos of people dressed in the Double V fashion wear.

The Courier ran photos of blacks and whites together flashing the Double V to say that a unified country was essential for winning the war. It urged the country to preach democracy to the world AND to practice it at home.

Other black newspapers eventually adopted the Double V campaign. It gave a voice to Americans who wanted to protest racial discrimination and contribute to the war effort.


African Americans also took advantage of America’s involvement in WWII to push for civil rights through mass protest. Despite the urgent need for skilled workers across America, many war production companies refused to hire blacks. The federal government refused to take action against the racial discriminatory actions of these industries. There was also segregation of black and whites who enlisted in the armed services.

In response to the blatant discrimination on the part of industry and government, civil rights leader and labor organizer A. Philip Randolph launched the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), which organized thousands of black people to march on the nation’s capital in 1941. They demanded that President Roosevelt issue an executive order banning discrimination in the defense industry. The threat of the protest march convinced FDR to hold a meeting with MOWM leaders in June 1941 to convince them to call off the march. They refused unless an executive order was issued.

Eventually, FDR agreed to a compromise with the march organizers. Executive Order 8802 banned employment discrimination in the defense industry and government. FDR also created a temporary Fair Employment Practices Committee to help ensure that defense manufacturers would not practice racial discrimination. Because of a major victory in forcing the government to take action against discrimination for the first time since Reconstruction, MOWM agreed to call off the march.

Source: Patriotism Crosses the Color Line: African Americans in World War II

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