U.S. involvement in WWII prompted tremendous changes in American race relations. A new fair employment law in 1941 gave African Americans access to better jobs in the booming defense industry, and many left the rural South. Black soldiers fought in a segregated army (U.S.armed forces were desegregated in 1948 via executive order by President Truman), but in many parts of the world they were treated with respect by whites for the first time. The rhetoric of Nazi fascism also cast an unflattering spotlight on racial discrimination, and the NAACP grew by leaps and bounds as it campaigned for "Double V--victory over fascism abroad and racism at home."
Postwar prosperity exposed the persistence of inequality, and there was a rise in southern lynchings in 1946 for the first time in decades. A GI Bill passed in 1944 had expanded the promise of homeownership, but because many black men had served in jobs not considered eligible for benefits, fewer blacks were able to qualify. Others were not told of the benefits, discouraged from applying, or had their applications rejected. “Many more were deliberately not informed about the benefits, were discouraged from applying when they inquired about them, or simply had their applications for benefits denied.” Many returning black veterans, among them
Andrew Wade, were no longer willing to accept the humiliations of racial discrimination, and new civil rights campaigns erupted, laying groundwork for the mass movement that would soon erupt.
What was the GI Bill?
Known as the GI Bill of Rights, the 1944 Serviceman’s Readjustment Act was created to provide returning soldiers with changing labor skills and opportunities to improve their wealth and quality of life. “The GI benefits ultimately extended to sixteen million Gis (veterans of the Korean War as well) included ... preferential hiring, ... financial support during the job search; small loans for starting up businesses; and, most important, low-interest home loans and educational benefits, which included tuition and living expenses.”*
*Sacks, Karen Brodkin. “The GI Bill: Whites Only Need Apply.” In Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror, edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Temple University Press: Philadelphia. 1997.
FDR’s executive order 8802
Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the executive order 8802 to ban discrimination in defense industries after facing pressure of a March on Washington in 1941, more than twenty years before Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington speech. Civil Rights Leader, A. Philip Randolph proposed the 1941 march after President
Roosevelt showed little intention of ending the racial discrimination that excluded African Americans from defense jobs. Randolph called for fifty thousand people to march on Washington, which successfully pressured Roosevelt into signing the executive order. The march was cancelled and by the end of 1944 close to two million African Americans were employed in defense work. Roosevelt’s executive order was then overturned in 1946.
“The unprecedented support for the education of returning World War II veterans provided by the G.I. Bill was notably race-neutral in its statutory terms. More than 1 million black men had served in the military during World War II and these men shared in eligibility for educational benefits, which included tuition payments and a stipend for up to four years of college or other training. Yet, the effects of military service and the availability of educational benefits may have differed by race and geography as black men from the South returned to segregated systems of higher education, with relatively limited opportunities at historically black institutions.”
NPR Interview of Author Laura Wexler regarding her book “A Fire in Canebreak” about the lynching of four African American people at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Georgia. Talks about the incident and the upswing of lynching after WWII.