Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

Military & Veterans

In February 1945, Langston Hughes dedicated his “Here To Yonder” column in the Chicago Defender to Negro History Week. After praising the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, Hughes wrote, “From Crispus Attucks who died on Boston Common for American freedom way back in Colonial days to the last young Negro American aviator to fall on the European battle fronts in this year of our war, 1945, the record of the Negro in democratic struggle has been a most worthy one.” In a poem from the same year, “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?”, Hughes called attention to the chasm between the bravery of African Americans in the military and the treatment black troops, veterans, and civilians encountered in America: 

So this is what I want to know:
When we see Victory’s glow,
Will you still let old Jim Crow
Hold me back?
When all those foreign folks who’ve waited—
Italians, Chinese, Danes—are liberated.
Will I still be ill-fated
Because I’m black?

These twin sentiments—pride in military accomplishments and frustration that this service did not secure equality—coursed through the pages of the black press. Stories of heroism, such as those of naval aviator Jesse L. Brown and WWI switchboard operator Rufus B. Atwood, were countered by accounts of the poor treatment black veterans received at home, like Air Force veteran Harvey Clark, Jr., whose family’s apartment was destroyed by a mob of 6,000 white people in Cicero, Illinois, in 1951. The black press also lauded the important role black women played in the military, especially the WWII service of WACs (Women’s Army Corps) and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). 

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