Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences During WWII
By: Capri Jordan
Beginning in September 2017, the Museum presented the new special gallery exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII. Here is the backstory to this exhibit and reasons you’ll want to see it, if you haven’t already.
In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson held in favor of racial segregation, maintaining that public institutions were to be kept “separate but equal.” Almost 45 years later, this system was still prevalent in much of America. In the south, segregation was embodied in the Jim Crow laws.
Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, opened war industries to African American workers. However, black soldiers were still segregated from their white counterparts, often forced to work non-combat jobs (as cooks, logistics, stewards, etc.) without proper training. Despite segregation and other obstacles, many African Americans joined the war effort. As American soldiers fought against Nazi ideology, institutionalized prejudice flourished at home. The new exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight, uncovers the struggles African Americans faced when trying to fight in WWII.
African Americans joined the war effort hoping to inspire change in America. The Double V Campaign, which spread like wildfire in black communities, called for a victory overseas and a victory for American minorities at home. It began in 1942 when a black man from Wichita, Kansas wrote to The Pittsburgh Courier:
Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?…[Is it] too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? Is the…America I know worth defending? Will America be a true and pure democracy after this war?...I suggest that while we keep defense and victory in the forefront that we don't lose sight of our fight for true democracy at home.–James G. Thompson.
After the war, African Americans expected improvements in society, but conditions remained stagnant. Over the next decade, racial tensions grew. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) which banned segregation in public schools led to the official start of the Civil Rights Movement. Sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, and rallies pushed the limits of race relations in the nation and drove the government to institute necessary legislation against segregation.
Upstanders emerged to oppose hate, injustice, prejudice, and ignorance. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall inspired others to stand up and fight for what they believed.
The Civil Rights Movement demanded that the treatment of minorities in America change. Current events bring home the point that this is a work in progress. The Museum special exhibits discussed here will inspire visitors to continue to stand up against injustice and hatred.
A special thank you to our exhibition sponsors and community partners:
Fighting for the Right to Fight Sponsors: Visit Dallas, Office of Cultural Affairs City of Dallas, Fox Rothschild/Clint David, Dallas Managing Partner, The National WWII Museum, Wells Fargo, and Abbot Downing.
Fighting for the Right to Fight Community Partners:
Community Partners: African American Museum, Bishop Arts Theatre Center, Claude R. Platte DFW Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Dallas Civil Rights Museum, Dallas Civil Rights Museum, Dallas County Community College District, Eastfield College History Department, Holy Cross Catholic Church, Paul Quinn College, St. Philip’s School and Community Center, Texas Center for African American Studies at University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas, and Veterans Resource Center,
Media Partners: GospelConnection.com; The Dallas Examiner, and KHVN Radio.