African American Heritage: African American Protest During World War II

Library of Congress

Prior to the war, the military maintained a racially segregated force and Africans in America were often classified as unfit for combat and were not allowed on the front lines. They were given support duties, and were not allowed in units with white soldiers. However, by 1941, with mounting pressure from African-American civil rights leaders, the government set up all-black combat units, as experiments. They were designed to see if African-American soldiers could perform military tasks on the same level as white soldiers (VOA, 2009).

When Italy invaded Ethiopia, the conflict brought awareness of the dangers of fascism and fueled African Americans interest in and identification with Africa. The flames of black internationalism became even hotter after World War II. (Hine 537)  Hine explain that thousands of black men and women learned new skills and ideas while serving in the armed forces, and many resolved to claim their rights. Events abroad and in the United States during the 1940s helped to increased black consciousness and led to a more aggressive militancy among local leaders and black citizens in southern states.

Racial segregation as practiced by the U.S. military reminded African Americans of their second-class status in America. The World War II crisis made impossible continued acquiescence to blatant inequalities. The black “Double V” campaign sought victory against racism on the home and fascism on the foreign fronts.  (Hine 535)


  • Hine, Darlene C., William Hine, Stanley Harrold. The African-American Odyssey, Volume 2, 6th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 08/2013. VitalBook file.
  • Voice of America (VOA) ,2009.  African American Soldiers in World War II Helped Pave Way for Integration of US Military. Voice of America News. Retrieved from  Retrieved on December 12, 2016.
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