|Background on NAACP||Thurgood Marshall & the FBI||Military Desegregation|
|Chambers v. Florida(1940)||Smith v. Allwright(1943)||Shelley v. Kraemer(1947)||Sipuel v. Univ. of Oklahoma(1948)||Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)|
The horrible treatment experienced by African-Americans at home in America during the 1900s even extended to the warfront abroad. The high commanders of the military enforced rigid segregation of all their forces, and most continued to do so for years even after President Truman’s order to desegregate. Despite this humiliation, African-Americans continued to fight bravely and heroically for their country.
The irony of America’s role in the World War II especially was that it claimed to be the most moral country involved, fighting for democracy and for the freedom of the Jews from persecution - these were the ideals that Americans troops, black and white, fought for, yet the conditions at home were just as bad, if not worse. One German newspaper printed an article in 1938:
“We very humbly pointed out the lynchjustice on Negroes and answered that these actions did not very well fit in with the beautiful gleaming soap bubble of democracy…We German barbarians, as far as we know, do not lynch Jewish race polluters in this inhuman way, we don’t even kill them…Our means of punishment for race pollution is much more refined…than America’s democratic lynchjustice.” 1
One outstanding example of the unfairness and distrust felt towards African-Americans was the Port Chicago mutiny. It occurred in July 0f 1944, when 320 sailors, 202 of whom were African-American, were killed by an accidental explosion of the ammunition which they had been loading onto ships in the Oakland harbor. Subsequently 258 black survivors of the explosion refused to return to work the next day, fearing a similar episode. They were charged by their superiors of cowardice and mutiny, and threatened with death by the firing squad. All except 50 returned to work. These 50 men were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison after a courts-martial that lasted only eight hours. Marshall won the men’s release in 1946, but all were given “less than honorable” discharges and were not given any benefits.
Even the Red Cross practiced humiliating racial policies. It not only segregated its eating and care facilities, but it also made sure to separate the blood for black and white soldiers. No dying black man would receive a white man’s blood to save his life, nor vice versa; when there was a severe shortage of nurses in the army, it was absolutely unheard of that black nurses would be employed to care for white men. The Red Cross maintained that this practice was “a matter of tradition and sentiment rather than science.”2 This is what was acceptable and unchangeable to the American generals fighting for freedom and equality.
Although change was called for by the beginning of World War II, almost nothing was accomplished while Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Things slowly began to change when Truman became president. In 1948 he passed Executive Order 9981, which declared that “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” Generals were slow to accept this order, and segregation and discrimination in the army continued; however, many black soldiers opted to stay in the army after World War II. There were actually more opportunities for them in the service than back in the Southern states of the U.S.A. When the U.S.A. became involved in the Korean war 1950, thousands of African-Americans soldiers returned to the battlefield.
The Communist leaders in Korea tried the same tactic as the Germans had in World War II, using propaganda to dispirit black troops, but they were unsuccessful. Ignoring this exploitation of their mistreatment, the African-American regiments won some of the most exceptional victories in the war. They won public recognition for their deeds at first, but soon after the announcements of the victories in the U.S. newspapers, the NAACP began to receive letters of complaint from the soldiers. These soldiers were court-martialed and given improper convictions and unusually severe punishments. The NAACP sent Marshall to investigate certain cases of suspicious court-martial in 1951. Initially General Douglas MacArthur, who had been strongly opposed to integrating the army, refused Marshall’s request to travel to Japan. Marshall eventually did fly to Japan nonetheless, and from there to Korea. He discovered innumerable cases of soldiers in prison who were wrongly accused of “misbehavior in front of the enemy” (the Seventy-fifth Article of War) and given very disproportional sentences, some even for death. Quite a few of these sentences were reported to the NAACP and to the president, and were reversed or lessened. In many cases, Marshall discovered that the soldiers had evidence that should have excused them from any accusation, but that they had not presented this evidence to the court. The soldiers said that “It wasn’t worth it. We knew when we went to trial that we could be convicted - and we were hoping and praying that we would only get life.”3
Marshall returned to New York a few months later and sent a copy of his report on the conditions in Korea to President Truman and to General MacArthur, bringing to the attention of the country the prevalent racism in the armed services. The NAACP executive secretary said “All of us are deeply indebted to Mr. Marshall for his expose of these conditions, which cry to high heaven for immediate correction…”4 By the end of the fighting in Korea in 1953, over 90 percent of all African-Americans in the army were serving in integrated units, and young recruits found it hard to believe that there had ever been any segregation and racism in the military.
1 A Defiant Life (p95)
2 A Defiant Life (p100)
3 Warrior at the Bar, Rebel on the Bench (p131)
4 Warrior at the Bar, Rebel on the Bench (p132)