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African American Soldiers: Military Discrimination Problem



Introduction

During World War II, there was a lot of racism in America, which was depicted by treatment of other races. African Americans were treated differently from white people because of their race. Besides, the roles that African Americans played during World War II were also different from those played by white people; this depicted the level of racism during the era. Racial discrimination was a main problem during the war period (Wynn, 2010). Racial discrimination was prominent in the provision of employment to African Americans; white people were usually given the first priority whenever job opportunities emerged. For instance, during the war, the employment opportunities were mainly presented to white people.

African Americans were seen as unfit for military jobs because of the Jim Crow laws. African Americans were largely discriminated against such that only a small percentage could be given the responsibility of participating in the battle. African American soldiers faced a lot of discrimination while taking part in the war; for instance, they could not share the same entertainment centers, dining centers and training centers with white people (Gooding & Adams, 1991). This manifested the extent of racial discrimination that existed amid the soldiers. In addition, when it came to commanding positions, most of African American bases were commanded by white officers. Therefore, despite the role played by African American soldiers in WWII, African American soldiers faced a lot of racial discrimination, which came to an end after WWII. This assignment will discuss the role played by African Americans at home and abroad and the problems they faced during World War II.

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Main Body

African Americans played a crucial role in WWII; about 500,000 African Americans served in Europe (O'Brien & Parsons, 1995). Despite the vast numbers of African American soldiers, they encountered racial discrimination. Before the war, African American soldiers faced a lot of problems since the military forces were racially segregated. According to the military studies, African Americans were usually classified as unfit for combating and were not permitted on the front lines; this made African Americans take the responsibilities of supporting the soldiers participating in war. Apart from not being allowed to participate in combats and front lines, African Americans further faced a lot of problems since they were not permitted in the units, where white soldiers were acting (Wynn, 2010).

This was a vast problem faced by African Americans because they could not have a better working environment like white soldiers. Since, proper working conditions are essential to performance of a soldier, African American soldiers suffered a lot since they worked under pressure in order to ensure that they are carrying out their responsibilities properly. Because they were not allowed to share units with white people, African American soldiers could not focus on team work since there was little bonding amid white people and African Americans. Soldiers need to work as a team in order to obtain success; however, this was not ensured because there was very little bonding among African Americans and white people.

Training is a vital aspect for soldiers, who take part in a war. However, training was a main problem encountered by African American soldiers. Since the military did not focus on enlisting African Americans in the force, it undermined the capacity of African Americans working as soldiers. Therefore, when it came to training of African Americans as soldiers, the latter did not receive sufficient training that could equip them with adequate fighting skills necessary for participation in the war. Rather than training African Americans adequately in order to participate in the combat, they were trained to assume minor roles such as cooking and supplying other soldiers with food (Eldridge, 2011). This really affected the manner in which African American soldiers acted in the battlefield. Due to the lack of fighting skills, some African American soldiers were bound to die in the war. Besides, the training centers for African American soldiers were different from those of white people. This indicated the problem of segregation, which African American soldiers faced during the war; apart from different training units, mess halls, base chapels and entertainment centers were segregated.

The Jim Crow laws were one of the main causes of problems faced by African American soldiers. In the 40’s, most African Americans living in the South became oppressed by the Jim Crow laws, which treated German POWs better as compared to African Americans. The military limited the number of African Americans enlisted in the military force; it was approximated that less than 10% of the military force comprised African Americans (Eldridge, 2011). This was an exceedingly small percentage compared to the entire population of African Americans. As this was not enough, another problem facing African American soldiers was that most of African American units were under the command of white officers. Because the commanding officers of most African American units were white people, it was exceedingly difficult for African American soldiers to share their problems with their commanders. This meant that African Americans remained with their problems concerning the war without exposing them to their commanders.

Another problem experienced by African Americans during the war was that they were considered inferior to white people. During that time, white people received quality education while most African Americans were illiterate. This was due to segregation that existed in public schools. Since most African Americans did not have quality education, they were deemed as inferior to white people. This made it difficult for African Americans to occupy the same positions in the war as white people. Most positions in the military that required certain skills were occupied by white people at the expense of African Americans (Eldridge, 2011). Besides, due to the perception that African Americans were inferior to white people, there were no African American officers who could offer a command or direction during the war. However, this came to an end due to the civil rights movement, which fought for equal treatment and work opportunities.

During WWII, African Americans faced the challenge of housing. This problem resulted from overcrowding in the main cities. For example, in Oregon, housing became a vast challenge because, during WWII, thousands of African Americans had migrated from the rural South to many cities across the country to get factory and shipyard jobs; most men were leaving the factories in an attempt to join the armed forces. The growth of population in the major cities led to overcrowding, which made most African Americans face the problem of housing.

In addition, another main challenge faced by African Americans during the war was the problem of employment. It existed because of the existing racial discrimination. White people were usually given the first priority for all job opportunities that emerged. The unemployment problem continued throughout WWII.

It was a challenging moment for African Americans because they were called upon to guard their nation from Japanese and Nazis, but they received despicable treatment at home. The fact that most African Americans wanted to guard their nation should have prompted good treatment to African Americans. However, this was not the case since African Americans that faced a lot of racial discrimination. Besides, the level of discrimination against African American soldiers was high such that even the Nazi war prisoners enjoyed several rights, which African American servicemen did not enjoy. German war prisoners held in America military bases were usually allowed to dine with American soldiers in facilities, which excluded African American soldiers. Wearing of military uniforms by African Americans resulted to harassment.

African Americans served courageously and with distinction in every aspect of WWII, while they struggled for their civil rights from the globe’s greatest democracy. Although the American armed forces had been officially segregated until 1948, World War II laid the basis for post-war combination of the military. As in 1941, less than 4,000 African Americans were still serving in the military while only 12 African Americans were officers. By 1945, above 1.2 million African Americans were serving in the military on the Home Front, in the Pacific and in Europe. During the war period, segregation practices of civilians spilled over to the military. Pressure from the NAACP made Roosevelt pledge that African Americans were to be enlisted according to their population percentage. However, although this percentage was actually never attained during the war, the number of African Americans serving in the army, air force, coast guard, and navy grew dramatically.

While most African American soldiers serving at the commencement of WWII were allotted non-combat units and were relegated to the service duties such as maintenance, supply, and transportation, their responsibilities behind the front lines were equally crucial to the war effort. Most African Americans drove ‘Red Ball express’ that carried a lot of supplies to the first and third armies. However, by 1945, troops losses forced the military to start placing a huge number of African Americans into positions of pilots, tankers, infantrymen, officers and medics. In all ranks and positions, African Americans served with honor, courage and distinction just like American soldiers. During the war, the first army on Utah and Omaha Beaches comprised of approximately 1,700 African American soldiers. During WWII, African American leaders and organizations had established the “Double v” campaign. This campaigned called for victory against racism at home and success against the enemy abroad. This consciousness of African Americans led to the defiant rejection of racism, which was unjustifiable, and planted vital seeds for the civil rights movement.

As the war continued, around 700,000 African Americans migrated West and North so as to take advantage of the emerging defense jobs; this increased racial tensions in principal cities. In the middle of the war, discrimination and frustrations due to unsanitary living conditions and overcrowding were experienced by African Americans. These problems exploded into a series of race riots. According to the Social Science Institute at Fisk University, in 1943, the tensions led to 242 conflicts in 47 cities throughout the country. In each of the riots, the police were reported to arrest and injure African Americans at a higher rate than white rioters. The riots served as evidence of African American frustration and their willingness to act; this increased support for a more comprehensive civil rights movement.

The experience of African Americans in the military was no less complex than on the home front. Ready to embrace the double V campaign, around 30,000 African Americans had attempted to enlist in the military, but were turned away. African Americans experienced discrimination since the Army Air Corps and the Marines accepted no African Americans. However, this was later changed by Roosevelt. African American soldiers further experienced the problem of discrimination and inequality while serving. The soldiers had poor living and working conditions, and there was continuous humiliation.

In one of the most horrifying incidents, 202 African Americans died in 1943, while unloading ammunition off a navy ship at Port Chicago. Besides, African Americans faced immense risk in the small towns, which housed bases; specially in the South. WWII for African Americans held many contradictions. Although African Americans served in the military with distinction, they suffered from racial violence and segregation due to their service. African Americans used political action to earn defense jobs, but yet faced limitations in the equality, which institutions such as the FEPC could aid them achieve. African Americans participated in fighting the threat of fascism abroad, but they voiced their dislike with Hitlerism at home.

The role of African American women is also recognized as vital during WWII. Above 6,500 African American women volunteered in the Women`s Army Corps. The 6888th Central Postal Batallion was of great importance. African American women had the responsibility of keeping mail flowing to more than 7,000,000 servicemen and women in Europe. The flow of mail ensured that servicemen in Europe knew what was happening at the home front. However, a limited number of African American women were required in other service branches (Honey, 1999). This also depicted the level of discrimination that existed.

Despite the contradictions, WWII can cautiously be labeled as a watershed event for African Americans. This is because, African Americans were able to build the infrastructure of political action by the use of the Black Press and made a significant step to the achievement of the civil rights. The acquisition of civil rights was a necessary success as it meant that segregation was put to a halt; African American could share the same freedoms and rights like white people. The civil rights were achieved by African Americans through the creation of civil rights movement, which fought for the rights of African Americans.

African American soldiers returned home transformed. Through their wartime experiences, there came frustrations and an urgent desire of taking charge of their lives and rebel against ill treatment. The anger and fear they felt during the battle did not fade at the end of the war, but rather intensified. African Americans became determined in discarding the mask of accommodation. Therefore, African American soldiers returning from the war provided the fuel towards the growing Civil Rights Movement. African Americans on the home front moved away from an agrarian income, obtained new job skills and improved their quality of life by fleeing Jim Crow separation in the South.

In spite of the problems faced by African American during the war, the community provided support to African American soldiers. Because of the racial segregation that existed, it was deemed that African Americans were unfit for the the front line and combat. This made most African Americans performing supportive roles such as cooks and janitors. However, through the civil rights movement, leaders were capable of convincing the government to set up African American combat units as part of an experiment to test whether African Americans could perform the duty of combating and appearing in the front lines. This helped African Americans in occupying commanding positions in the military.

This was a crucial opportunity in ending the segregation practiced in the military. Another support from the community entails the action of the civil rights movement in organizing a march and claiming to increase the number of African American soldiers. Because of segregation, a very small number of African Americans were enlisted as soldiers; however, with the help of the civil rights movement, the number of African Americans enlisted in the military increased dramatically. Besides, some positions not occupied by African American soldiers became available to them later.

Although there was immense discrimination against African American soldiers, they played a vital role in World War II, and deserved an excellent treatment. The participation in the war was a show of patriotism to the nation since there is no one, who can go to fight for his/her country without being devoted to this country. Therefore, the role played by African Americans was a depiction of patriotism, which required a lot of appreciation rather than segregation. Since African Americans desired to participate in for the war in order to protect their country, it is beyond argument that they deserved to be treated in the same way as white people. Hence, it was right for the civil rights movement to fight for the end of racial discrimination because, at the end of the war, African Americans deserved to have equal rights with white people.

Conclusion

During WWII, African Americans faced different problems, which were not experienced by white people. Racial discrimination was the main contributor to the problems that African Americans experienced. In the 40’s, most African Americans living in the South became oppressed by the Jim Crow laws, which treated German POWs better as compared to African Americans. For example, POWs were permitted to share the same dining units with white people, but this was not allowed for African American servicemen. Another problem experienced by African Americans during the war was that they were considered inferior to white people. During that time, white people received quality education while most African Americans were illiterate.

This made African Americans be treated differently in the employment units such as the military; for example, rather than having African Americans as commanders of units, most of these units were commanded by white officers. In the middle of the war, discrimination and frustrations because of unsanitary living conditions and overcrowding were experienced by African Americans. These problems exploded into a series of race riots. The success achieved by African Americans during the war was the elimination of racial discrimination.

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