From left to right, back row, they areT/5L. C. Carter, Jr., Private John Bonner, Jr., Staff Sergeant Charles R. Johnson. Standing, from left to right, are T/5 A. B. Randle, T/5 HomerH. Gaines, and Private Willie Tellie." March 11, 1945. S/Sgt. W. H.Feen.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, America went to war. Everyone, including African-Americans, wanted to be a part of the American Armed forces. Throughout the years of the war, numerous bills and acts were made in order to get rid of any discrimination problems in the Armed Forces. Furthermore, the whole country heard stories about certain African-Americans or African-American battalions going above and beyond the call of duty. However, the U. S. government did not tell the American public about everything that was going on. Despite the political impressions that America had on the improvement to integrate African-American soldiers into the armed forces, segregation and discrimination were still very much a part of World War II.
The Army enjoyed showing every picture of a black soldier in action or the heroic stories of certain African-Americans because there were very few instances. The classic heroic story used entailed the plight of Doris Miller, the African-American messman aboard the West Virginia who, on the invasion of Pearl Harbor, moved “his mortally wounded captain to a place of great safety” and shot down six Japanese planes with a machine gun (Neverdon-Morton 6). Additionally, the government film, “The Negro Soldier” depicted the army as though there were many active African-American soldiers, due to the fact that “the War Department’s policy seems to be to give the greatest possible publicity to those very few Negro units” . No matter how involved these soldiers appeared to Americans in this movie, Ruth Wilson, author of Jim Crow Joins Up, stated that it “...by no means compensates for the fact that only a very small number of Negroes is being given opportunity for front line service” . Cynthia Neverdon-Morton adds that even though African-American soldiers went through the same basic training, 78% of them held menial positions in areas such as the quartermaster, engineer, and transportation corps .
The hundreds of thousands of African-American soldiers who did not see combat faced segregation to its fullest in spite of being United States soldiers, and the government did nothing productive to keep this from happening. The Army allegedly sent the quartered African-American soldiers to the South to train in “year-round open weather,” coincidently also the heart of the Jim Crow Laws . In other words, the Army sent African-Americans who were willing to give their lives for their country to the worst possible place in America that they could be sent. Some soldiers in El Paso, Texas, were denied entrance and service when they tried to enter a local restaurant. They ate cold food outside while watching “German prisoners of war seated in the restaurant and eating hot food”. Even the enemies of the United States got treated better than the African-American soldiers. To make matters worse, nobody really saw anything wrong with the situation.
In James Baldwin’s essay, “Notes of a Native Son,” which takes place during World War II, he talks about a specific hate crime on an African-American soldier by a local policeman, which adds to the fact that soldiers of the United States Armed Forces received little or no respect. Talk quickly spread by saying that the soldier was shot in the back and died while protecting a “Negro” woman when in fact he was not shot in the back, was not dead, and the woman had nothing to do with the situation, which obviously shows that “… no one was interested in the facts”. This kind of situation occurred often, and showed the hatred that the two races had towards each other. This situation is especially notable because United States soldiers deserved respect, regardless of race, and African-American soldiers were more likely to be attacked because they stood out from the rest.
Another hidden truth about the Negro soldiers fighting in World War II was that not only did very few actually fight on the battlefield, but they were treated like mere experiments when they were finally allowed to participate in actual combat. The American Air Command tried hiding the fact that they “apparently never wanted Negro personnel” by hiding documents in a case and “completely disregarded the judge’s advice” about not allowing discrimination. They had such a problem with discrimination with the Air Command that they had to be “forced by the War Department’s policy to admit Negroes “as an experiment”” . The few African-American nurses during the war were seldom given a chance to implement their skills, and a group of sixty-three nurses was sent to England to ail German prisoners, being the “first ‘experiment’ in which black nurses treated white males” .
James Baldwin and everyone around him thought exactly what the government wanted America to believe. Although the American people were somewhat informed of these racial discriminations in the army through political articles, the government nonetheless successfully covered up any discrepancies. African-American soldiers were segregated and treated poorly because of their race, but as Baldwin put it “the people I knew still felt … even if death should come, it would come with honor and without the complicity of their countrymen”. People still felt that their Negro relatives were going to die with honor at war when in fact they were not even fighting.
Another instance which created this pseudo-image of Negro soldiers was when the Army promoted soldiers to temporarily be politically correct. Specifically, in the case where War Secretary Stimson officially announced that “… all grades in the Army, ‘including that of General’ are held by Negroes” 98. However, this is a significant cover up supporting the overall misconception due to the real facts that confirm “There was at the time just one Negro General on the active list, General Benjamin O. Davis, who came up from the ranks and was promoted to Brigadier-General just before the Presidential election in 1940”. Shortly after he was stationed as a “trouble-shooter,” showing quite bluntly that a soldier, who should have been promoted months beforehand, rose in the ranks so a presidential candidate could win over black votes and then dropped back down in the ranks after the fact.
The African-American women as a whole were severely discriminated against in the Armed Forces. Out of 50,000 sought after nurses for the army, 219 qualified Negro women got accepted. Almost two months later they only talked about taking action on this issue in the future: “On July 13, 1944 the War Department announced that nurses would be accepted by the army in future without regard to race or color.” In the Navy Department, where there certainly were no negro women, they announced that there would be a plan coming to action that women would be admitted in a no segregation plan, “However, a year went by with no definite action taken by the navy department for the admittance of Negro women”.
James Baldwin uncovers a few misconceptions in his essay, “Notes of a Native Son”, about the discrimination that occurred with in the American Armed Forces during World War II. These misconceptions were not unintentional—the government, to look more political, created these perceptions. The government treated the African Americans unfairly and segregation and discrimination were still not uncommon. Not only were African-Americans rarely let into the army but once in the army they were not given the same opportunities as the other soldiers. This was not only unfair to the African-American soldiers who were willing to put their lives on the line for their country but also for all American citizens who lost their lives in World War II.