What Was Black America's Double War?

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: A paper's call for blacks to support the World War II effort had a twist.

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To measure the campaign's impact, the Courier ran a survey. On Oct. 24, 1942, it published the results: In response to the question, "Do You Feel that the Negro Should Soft Pedal His Demands for Complete Freedom and Citizenship and Await the Development of the Educational Process?" 88.7 percent of readers responded no, with only 9.2 percent responding yes. 

Needless to say, not everyone was pleased with the Double V Campaign: As Washburn writes in A Question of Sedition, the federal government systematically monitored the black press, including this campaign, during the war. Accordingly, to avoid charges of disloyalty or aiding and abetting the enemy, the Courier's editorial added a caveat to its poll results: "No one must interpret this … as a plot to impede the war effort. Negroes recognize that the first factor in the survival of this nation is the winning of the war. But they feel integration of Negroes into the whole scheme of things 'revitalizes' the U.S. war program."

Legacy of the Campaign

In September 1945, the Double V insignia disappeared from the paper, replaced in 1946 by a Single V, indicating that more work combating antiblack racism needed to be done at home. But as Clarence Taylor concludes, "Although the Courier could not claim any concrete accomplishments, the Double V campaign helped provide a voice to Americans who wanted to protest racial discrimination and contribute to the war effort."  

While the Courier's campaign kept the demands of African Americans for equal rights at home front and center during the war abroad, we can also argue that the Double V Campaign had at least two important legacies following the war: First, through the columns of its sportswriter, Wendell Smith, which featured prominently in the film 42, it doggedly fought against segregation in professional sports, contributing without a doubt to the Brooklyn, N.Y., Dodgers' decision to sign Jackie Robinson in 1947, which in turn had a ripple effect. And on July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which ordered the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces. With that action, the Double V Campaign had at last realized one of its principal goals.

The military service of black men and women before and after the desegregation order, and the strength of the Double V Campaign, helped to inspire the modern civil rights movement that began in earnest just after the war ended. Both efforts remain worthy of remembrance on this Memorial Day holiday.

As always, you can find more "Amazing Facts About the Negro" on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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