12019-03-12T23:56:56+00:00Stanford University Pressaf84c3e11fe030c51c61bbd190fa82a3a1a1282413plainpublished2019-08-20T16:35:53+00:00Production Editor7a3dce28be212b1ba5b4a7a50f3d6a8d76b58c74Guest post by Kristopher Boatman, History MA student at Arizona State University.
During the fall of 1942, the NAACP was making a solid effort to spread support for the United States’ effort in fighting World War Two. Some within the NCAAP, including Assistant Secretary Roy Wilkins, noted the irony of battling fascist dictators and militarism overseas, while being hamstrung at home by “racial barriers.”
As noted in the December 19, 1942, edition of Baltimore, Maryland’s Afro-American, Wilkins was traveling in the West, speaking on the topic of African-American involvement in the war effort. Wilkins outlined “a plan to remove the racial barriers that are preventing colored Americans from doing their utmost in the war effort.” He pointed out the irony of “fighting dictatorship,” while African-Americans were “assailed by the poll tax, asserting that it ‘is intimately connected with the war effort, for when ten million Americans have to pay for the right to vote, that’s like a dictatorship.’”
A previous article in the Baltimore Afro-American, from December 12, 1942, made a similar argument against the “racial barriers” that prevented African Americans from fully contributing to winning the war. This article also went a step further, by linking discrimination to being akin to helping Hitler. The article states how George A. Meyers, the president of the Maryland-District of Columbia Industrial Union Council, argued that “whoever places obstacles in the way of employment of colored people, of Jews and any other groups in any of our war industries is acting as the agent, willing or unwilling, paid or unpaid, of Adolph Hitler.” Meyer linked discrimination in employment to creating a “manpower problem” and asked whether unions “have actually gone out to encourage and welcome” the employment of both African Americans and women.
Another “racial barrier” that Meyers attacked was, similarly to Roy Wilkins, the poll tax. Meyers criticized the state of Maryland’s Declaration of Intentions Act, which required voters to be registered for an entire year before they could vote. In attacking this law, Meyers argues that the Maryland legislature should repeal the act to “help strengthen the morale of our workers.”
Another speaker at the meeting of the Maryland-District of Columbia Industrial Union Council was Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro. D’Alesandro attacked discrimination, stating that “there must be no room for discrimination in our nation.” He further stated that “a united people” is just as necessary to winning the war as “guns and tanks.” D’Alesandro proudly notes that he voted for both “the anti-lynch bill and the anti-poll tax bill” and how their passage “would do much” in uniting people of “all classes” and “all races.”
From these articles, we can see that for African-American men and women, participation within the effort to defeat fascism and militarism was very important and considered one’s patriotic duty. However, this does not mean that African Americans were immune to the irony of fighting a war to defeat fascist and militarist dictatorships, while suffering from “racial barriers” and discrimination at home.