Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Dan Pedersen

Author: Dan Pedersen

Unit Title: Civil Rights

Lesson Title: Segregation in the United States Military

Subject: History

Level: 8th Grade

Length of Lesson: Two - 55 minute class periods

 

Introduction:

The history of the civil rights movement in the United States is inextricably tied with the desegregation of the United States Military. Black Americans had served their country with honor and distinction in both the Civil War and the First World War. These men fought in segregated units generally led by white officers. At home these warriors not only suffered the continued humiliation of a segregated society but also were relegated to the status of second-class citizens by a series of rigid anti –Black laws called Jim Crow. At the outset of World War Two the United States Military continued to be segregated and Black soldiers served primarily in support and rear echelon service positions. As the Second World War progressed it became evident that America would need every available fighting man, Black or White to defeat our enemies.

At this time a Black owned newspaper, The Courier, posed the question, “Should I Sacrifice To Live ‘Half American’”? The Courier began an effort to promote civil rights for Blacks at home while patriotically supporting the war effort overseas. The theme of the Couriers campaign was “Democracy: Victory at home, Victory abroad”. The result of the efforts of Black soldiers at the front and of Black men and women supporting them on the home front was the gradual desegregation of the United States Military.

This lesson is part of a larger unit on civil rights and students need understand the concepts of segregation, Jim Crow and the “Double V Campaign”. Students must be familiar with the tension that was growing within the black community over the social inequalities between African Americans and Whites. A timeline of the Second World War is essential for students to be able to relate the primary source documents used in this lesson with major events during the European military campaign.

Four primary source documents are used in this lesson. They range in time from 1938 to 1951 and reveal the perspective of learned men, statesman, and military strategists toward the evolving integration of black soldiers into the United States Military. These documents when used in conjunction with a timeline for the war and the era will provide students with the context and its effect on the status of Black Soldiers in the Military.

These documents will also provide students with the additional background needed to move forward with the study of desegregation in American society.

 

Objectives:

1. To enable students to make connections between events of the Second World War and the desegregation of the Armed Forces.

2. To help students make comparisons between the segregated Armed Forces of the World War 2 Era and the integrated Armed Forces of today.

3. To teach students how to analyze source documents and draws conclusions from them.

4. To help students understand the value of primary source documents in understanding history.

 

Nevada State History Standards

History Standard 1.0: Chronology: Students use chronology to organize and understand the sequence and relationship of events.
Benchmark 1.8.1: Describe how a current event is presented by multiple sources.

History Standard 2.0: History Skills Students will use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision making.
Benchmark 2.8.2: Evaluate sources of historical information based on:
- bias
- credibility
- cultural context
- reliability
- time period
Benchmark 2.8.3: Read and use informational tools, including:
- charts
- diagrams
- graph
- maps
- political cartoons
- photographs
- tables

 

In Class Student Activities:

The lesson includes four primary source documents from the Truman Library. I printed a copy of each document for each student in my class. The students read the documents in their entirety instead of as excerpts to insure that no important information is overlooked and understanding of the larger picture is ensured. Document number five is a photograph of three black frontline soldiers during the 2003 Iraq War. This photograph is included so that students may draw parallels between the United States Armed Forces of World War Two and the fully integrated Military Forces of today.

The students will be given two one hour class periods to complete the assignment. The first class period will consist of reading, examining, and discussing the documents. The teacher will facilitate by making comments and asking questions. During the second class period students will write a brief summary and conclusion essay relating how the documents related the essentials of desegregation in the armed forces.

Before looking at the four documents featured in this lesson, brainstorm with students what it must have felt like to be a Black soldier returning home on leave to Jim Crow America from the front lines of the War in Europe. How is it different from a Black soldier returning home from war today? What changes have taken place to make him feel an equal part of society in the nation he fought to defend? What were the events that led up to the removal of the Jim Crow Laws. What part do you think the desegregation of the military played in these changes? How is the United States of today different from the Jim Crow Unites States of World War Two? Copy and distribute the four primary source documents. Students will work in-groups of four with each student being assigned a role as facilitator, recorder, materials person, and presenter. Using a timeline the group will place each document in proper time frame of World War Two events. Students will read each document and fill out a KWL (K stands for Know, W stands for Will or Want, L stands for Learned) chart for that document. The recorder will take notes making reference to date of the document, author, and nature of the document. The students will then be ready for class discussion. This procedure will be repeated for all four documents sequentially beginning with number one. At the end of the discussion period students will be handed a copy of photograph of the three black front line soldiers and to discuss parallels between the armed forces of World War Two and the armed forces of today where people of all races are treated equally. The teacher will facilitate class discussion and then monitor the interactions within each student group. Ask students the following questions: What evidence do you find in the 1938 letter to indicates the author’s reason for writing it? Why did the author review the history of Blacks in the United States Military? What was going on at this time to cause the author to comment on 99% of Blacks being born in the United States and not elsewhere? What is the significance of no Black American ever having been convicted of treason? Why is the date 1938 important as it relates to Fascists and Nazis? What significant military event was going on at the time the 1944 memorandum was written? Why was the memo recommending that Black soldiers be given the opportunity to serve on the front lines? At what point did the memo state that Negroes would be placed in other organizations besides Negro units? What are the suggested changes to President Truman’s message on Civil Rights dated January 1948? In what ways had the United States Military changed its attitude toward integration of Black soldiers? What military action was the United States involved in at the time the 1951 letter was written? How did the need for Black servicemen in Korea affect the civil rights movement in The United States? In what ways had democracy failed Black soldiers returning home? How does the author feel when he says he is a Black man fighting in a racial war to push the white man out of Asia?

Extended Enrichment Materials:

Ask students to research how, when, and why United States Military Bases at home were finally desegregate

Students can watch the movie “ The Tuskegee Airman” to gain additional insight into the role-played by black aviators in the Army Air Corps during World War Two.

Using the desegregation of the military as a starting point have student’s research connections with desegregation in the private sector. Ask what organizations and leaders led the fight for equality. Each student may be assigned to submit a completed report on these connections.

 

Materials List:

From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. The Double V Campaign

Shortly after America’s entrance in to World War II, The Courier launched “The Double V Campaign” (Double V). Under the theme of “Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad” The Courier remained patriotic, yet pushed for civil rights for blacks. It was very important that the campaign show loyalty towards the war effort, since the black press had been criticized for pushing their agenda ahead of the national agenda. This campaign was initially a roaring success. This was the most important part of The Courier during the war.

James G. Thompson, of Wichita, KS created the campaign. In a January 31, 1942 letter to the editor, titled, “Should I Sacrifice To Live ‘Half American?’” Thompson urged that such a campaign would set apart the confusion of a black American at the time. Formally debuting February 7, 1942, Double V, appeared only as the insignia; DEMOCRACY on top of two interlocking “V’s” with a crest that included “Double Victory” and AT HOME - ABROAD at the bottom of the logo. An eagle perched across the crest. There was no other mention of the entire campaign in that issue of the paper. On February 14, 1942, The Courier released this statement, above the masthead:

“The Courier’s Double ‘V’ For a Double Victory Campaign Gets Country-Wide Support.” Last week, without any public announcement or fanfare, the editors of The Courier introduced its war slogan- a double “V” for a double victory to colored America. We did this advisedly because we wanted to test the response and popularity of such a slogan with our readers. The response has been overwhelming. Our office has been inundated with hundreds of telegrams and letters of congratulations proving that without any explanation, this slogan represents the true battle cry of colored America. This week we gratefully acknowledge this voluntary response and offer the following explanation: Americans all, are involved in a gigantic war effort to assure the victory for the cause of freedom- the four freedoms that have been so nobly expressed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. We, as colored Americans, are determined to protect our country, our form of government and the freedoms, which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world, therefore we have adopted the Double “V” war cry- victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad. Thus in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslaved at home and those abroad who would enslave us. WE HAVE A STAKE IN THIS FIGHT.... WE ARE AMERICANS TOO!”

 

Document 1

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/1938/daf117-1.htm
Letter, dated March 4, 1938, from R.L. Vann, Editor, Pittsburgh Courier, to Ernest H. Wilkins, President, Oberlin College, seeking Wilkins’ opinion on the question of whether all branches of the U.S. Army and Navy should be open to African Americans or whether segregated units within each branch should be created

Document 2

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/1944/daf159-2.htm
Memorandum dated December 26, 1944, by John C H Lee, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army commanding, to commanding generals, Southern Line of Communications and United Kingdom Base, and section commanders, Communications Zone. The memo notes the need for soldiers to serve on the front lines, and directs that the opportunity to volunteer be given to all soldiers, regardless of race, with preference given to trained infantrymen

Document 3

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/1948/daf33-1.htm
Record of suggested changes to President Harry S. Truman’s message on Civil Rights as dictated over the telephone, dated January 29, 1948. The suggestions for changes come from Marx Lava

Document 4

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/1951/daf50-2.htm
Letter, dated January 2, 1951, from Stewart A. Street, an African-American veteran and college student due to be called into action in the Korean War, to President Harry S. Truman. With biting irony, the letter notes the extent of segregation in Washington, D.C. and urges Truman to abolish segregation of any type against any member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

See Photo: Black Marines in frontline position 4/03 in Iraq
Photo: MSNBC News April 5th 2003 TARGET IRAQ
Title: Under Fire Laurent Rebours /AP

This is the location to find out more about the Double V Campaign. When you pull up this page you will need to scroll down the page to find the highlighted section on the Double V Campaign. http://www.yurasko.net/vv/courier.html

 

Citations:

N/A

 

Evaluation /Assessment:

Students were assessed based on class participation during the activity and summarizing essay. Each student is graded on content and level of continuity with primary source materials of their written report.. A brief written evaluation of the movie, The Tuskegee Airmen and how it relates to what was learned from the evaluation of the primary source documents.

 

Additional Bibliography/Acknowledgement:

Jim Crow Laws

“From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.” From LOC website The Double V Campaign

“Shortly after America’s entrance in to World War II, The Courier launched “The Double V Campaign” (Double V). Under the theme of “Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad” The Courier remained patriotic, yet pushed for civil rights for blacks. It was very important that the campaign show loyalty towards the war effort, since the black press had been criticized for pushing their agenda ahead of the national agenda. This campaign was initially a roaring success. This was the most important part of The Courier during the war.

James G. Thompson, of Wichita, KS created the campaign. In a January 31, 1942 letter to the editor, titled, “Should I Sacrifice To Live ‘Half American?’” Thompson urged that such a campaign would set apart the confusion of a black American at the time. Formally debuting February 7, 1942, Double V, appeared only as the insignia; DEMOCRACY on top of two interlocking “V’s” with a crest that included “Double Victory” and AT HOME - ABROAD at the bottom of the logo. An eagle perched across the crest. There was no other mention of the entire campaign in that issue of the paper. On February 14, 1942, The Courier released this statement, above the masthead:

“The Courier’s Double ‘V’ For a Double Victory Campaign Gets Country-Wide Support.” Last week, without any public announcement or fanfare, the editors of The Courier introduced its war slogan- a double “V” for a double victory to colored America. We did this advisedly because we wanted to test the response and popularity of such a slogan with our readers. The response has been overwhelming. Our office has been inundated with hundreds of telegrams and letters of congratulations proving that without any explanation, this slogan represents the true battle cry of colored America. This week we gratefully acknowledge this voluntary response and offer the following explanation: Americans all, are involved in a gigantic war effort to assure the victory for the cause of freedom- the four freedoms that have been so nobly expressed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. We, as colored Americans, are determined to protect our country, our form of government and the freedoms, which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world, therefore we have adopted the Double “V” war cry- victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad. Thus in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslaves at home and those abroad who would enslave us. WE HAVE A STAKE IN THIS FIGHT.... WE ARE AMERICANS TOO!

http://www.yurasko.net/vv/courier.html