The Sacrifice Of African-American Soldiers In World War II Under Intense Racism

Despite the continuous racism and discrimination faced by the African American, the truth remains that the black man in America has sacrificed more in building America to where it is now.

Many years after slavery, black men went to the fronts of the second world war and fought for America without any bias or prejudice. They served and died in all branches of the military.

Around 909,000 African Americans were in the Army, with a peak of 700,000 serving at one point in 1944. Because of discrimination in the military ranks, the majority of black soldiers were placed in support units, mainly as quartermasters, engineers, and transportation corps. It was until 1944 that blacks were permitted to serve in the combat units; therefore, only about 50,000 African-American troops were involved in active combat during the war.

Because of discriminatory practices, African Americans served in black-only infantry, cavalry, air corps, marine corps, tank, and field artillery divisions. In the Navy, African Americans served in various capacities, though many were prevented from going to sea; a notable exception occurred in 1943 when a submarine chaser and a destroyer escort were staffed with predominantly black crews.

Aside from segregation, other forms of discrimination included the difficulties experienced by black soldiers wanting to train as officers.  Also, some other major issues were the separation of blood plasma taken from white and black soldiers and the issuance of “blue discharges” to many African-American soldiers. These were mainly administrative discharges that were neither honorable nor dishonorable.  

About 22% of these discharges were issued to African Americans – a large percentage were from the African-American servicemen. The discharge often resulted in black recipients being denied benefits of the G.I. Bill and difficulties in being accepted for future employment.

Many African American soldiers served with distinction and received medals for bravery and valor. However, none was awarded the highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for their outstanding roles during the war. However, in 1997, President Clinton awarded the medal to seven World War II servicemen One was still alive, and the other six were awarded posthumously. These men were meant to receive these medals during or immediately after the war, but racism stood in the war of that.

There are accounts of Black-only units that have become famous for the special part they played in the war effort. Very prominent at the time were the 92nd Infantry Division and the 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion, which led a 183-day advance by American forces from France to Germany, and the praise by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower for the efforts of the black-only 99th Fighter Squadron.

The end of segregation and discrimination against African Americans began with President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 issued on June 25, 1941.

President Roosevelt had been under immense pressure to desegregate the military by civil rights groups. The Executive order was clearly his way of avoiding a march of 100,000 blacks on Washington threatened by labor organizer A. Phillip Randolph, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League. The Executive order created the ‘Fair Employment Practices Commission’ tasked with the elimination of race or color-based discrimination in the armed forces.

However, the commission was underfunded and understaffed, and its powers were minimal. As a result, the discriminatory practices continued for the duration of the war and even beyond it. Again, to curb the segregation, President Truman, on July 26, 1948, issued Executive Order 9981, which sought to end any form of segregation in the armed forces, and also in schools and neighborhoods. But It took until 1954 for all the black-only units to be disbanded by the army.

Members of the Women’s Army Corps’s 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in England helped streamline the mail system in Europe. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

There was, in fact, a temporary lifting of the institutionalized segregation in the armed forces when, in the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, American white infantry found themselves desperately outnumbered. Gen. Eisenhower solved the problem by allowing black platoons to be absolved into the regular white units. This was one of the instances where the African-American soldiers saved the day.

The symbol adopted by blacks in America’s armed forces during World War II was the “Double V.” First publicized in the widely read black newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, the symbol represented a double victory against the foreign enemies and the enemies at home – segregation, discrimination, and prejudice.

African Americans also played an active role on the home front, irrespective of the segregation and bullying at the time.  Many contributed to the purchase of war bonds, volunteering in various capacities and working in industries that supported the war effort. It is recorded that more than 2 million blacks worked for the defense industries, with another 2 million joining the federal civil service.

Because of the war, the overall economic situation of African Americans improved greatly. This was mainly because of labor shortages leading the government to seek all available manpower, regardless of skin color.

Many impoverished blacks from the South had to migrate to the North, Midwest, and West to seek work in the industries, as it offered better pay than the farming and domestic service positions open to blacks in the South.

It was recorded that about 700,000 blacks moved during the war, with 400,000 leaving the South. However, this migratory shift also led to a rise in racial tensions, particularly in overcrowded cities, with race riots in Detroit and Harlem in 1943.

These accounts point to the sacrifice the African American has made in strengthening America. But what had he gotten back in return? Scorn, discrimination, continuous segregation and all manner of inhumane treatments.

But we believe that America can do better. We believe America can rise from hate and let the African American thrive peacefully, without looking over his shoulders, in a nation he built with blood, tears, and sweat.



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Liberty Writers Africa

Liberty Writers Africa

Our mission is to raise the collective consciousness of Africans all over the world. And also giving an account of our uniqueness, we hope to reintroduce Africa to the rest of the world. At the core of our vision, is to liberate the African mind - to make Africans discover their voice through literature.

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