Many African-Americans hoped that after World War I
they would find equality in their own country. There were good reasons for such
More than 370,000 African-Americans were serving in the
Some 300,000 had moved from the South to the North and West to work in
defense industries. They expected that their excellent war and work records
would influence other Americans to give them their rights.
And, finally, early in the war President Wilson had
said that the war was being fought "to make the world safe for democracy." Did
this not mean that he intended to make democracy work at home?
1. What were some of the things that would have to
be done to "make democracy work at home?"
African-American hopes were not realized. During and after
World War I feelings against them seemed to grow worse. The Ku Klux Klan was
revived, and other anti-African-American organizations were started. Newspapers
often carried stories about attacks against African-Americans. Thousands of
innocent people were left homeless as a result of riots which they did not
start. Many African-Americans suffered from harsh discrimination.
In spite of the risks,
African-Americans continued to work for their own advancement. The NAACP* was
active in suing in the courts for equal rights. The NAACP also worked to have
laws passed that were beneficial to African-Americans. Another group, The
National Urban League, concentrated on helping African-Americans receive equal
standing in the workplace.
2. In what two ways did the NAACP work to
3. In what way did the
National Urban League work to advance African-Americans?
World War II, about one million African-American men and women served in the
armed forces. About half of these Americans served overseas. Many more
opportunities were open to them in World War II than had been in any other war.
One step forward, for example, was the promotion of Benjamin Davis, Sr., to the
rank of Brigadier General. Davis was the first African-American in our armed
forces to achieve this rank.
During the first years of the war the armed
forces were segregated. African-American units lived separately, were trained
separately, and served separately. This policy wasted time and money, and it
used manpower inefficiently.
Military and government leaders decided to
experiment with integrated troops. Some small units of African-American troops
were attached to larger units of white troops. Results were encouraging. The men
worked harmoniously together and effectively carried out their duties and
responsibilities. The war ended before full integration of the armed forces was
achieved. But a start had been made.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry
S. Truman took a giant step forward in moving African-Americans closer to the
goal of equality. He signed Executive Order 9981. This order stated, "there
shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Armed
Services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." Excellent
progress in carrying out this order was made; today, the armed forces are
4. Why is Benjamin Davis, Sr., an important figure?
* National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People
Ready-to-Use American History Activities.