As we enter the last week of Black History Month for 2021, I am thinking back on the podcast we did on the subject of WWII Black servicemen, with Jonathan Speed our guest. His knowledge on the subject was vast and of course, he does have a Masters in military history. The photo below shows some of the Tuskegee airmen, the fighter pilots who never lost a bomber during the war. Their nickname was the Redtails named after the red markings on their airplanes' tails.
Jonathan said that 2.5 million African American servicemen and women were drafted into the armed forces in the Second World War and saw action in all the theaters of war. I remember my father speaking about the black soldiers he befriended during his tours in North Africa, Sicily and Italy and afterwards in New York. But he always said that their treatment upon returning Stateside as decorated veterans was awful.
Having put themselves in harms way fighting for liberty in Europe and Asia, they were treated as second class citizens upon their return because of the Jim Crow laws and segregation practices in the 1940s and 1950s.
To think that Uncle Sam had the gall, the chutzpah to drafted these young men and talk grandly about defending truth, justice, freedom and the American Way and then to discriminate against them when they returned was just the height of hypocrisy. No wonder there were riots in many US cities during the War.
But my father having said that their treatment was wrong, he was a big supporter of integration of the Armed Forces by Harry Truman as well as a Civil Rights supporter in the 1950s and 60s. The forebearance and strength of those young men to handle those conditions with dignity and restraint is a credit to their collective strength of character. But at least the 1960s New Frontier and Great Society legislation - 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act and 1968 Fair Housing Act - made attempts to right the wrongs of Jim Crow Laws. And the broad support by the white voters for civil rights reforms was due in part to their wartime experience with their black comrades.