The 1930s and the 1940s in the U.S. were characterized by continuing discrimination of African Americans in the majority of the spheres of life in the country. The persistence of the Jim Crow laws in the South and the resulting segregation were considerable obstacles for black people since they affected their ability to have a proper job, vote, and use public transportation. Additionally, African Americans experienced racism in the armed forces, which, in the midst of the fight with Hitler’s fascism, made it difficult for the government to maintain the existing status quo at home. Yet, even after certain laws that promoted discrimination were abandoned, black people did not stop being affected by systemic prejudice. The 40s era saw many organizations that took actions to defend the rights of African Americans, and despite the fact that they espoused different tactics, they all contributed to the cause of racial justice.
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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was the most prominent political actor dedicated to improving African Americans’ status. The organization backed peaceful methods and, for example, supported activist A. Philip Randolph, who threatened the federal government with a possibility of a large march on Washington if racial mistreatment would not be prohibited. This strategy was effective and, in 1941, led to the signing of an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which banned racial discrimination in the defense industry (Jersey & Wormser, 2002). During the period after the war, many members of the NAACP, including W. E. B. Du Bois, who believed that the new Truman administration would not be concerned with the issues faced by black Americans. The end of WWII marked the beginning of the cold war, which resulted in strong opposition to the leftist movements in the U.S and caused the NAACP to distance itself from communism. When the USSR agreed to sponsor Du Bois’s “An Appeal to the World,” a document that addressed America’s racial injustice, he was removed from the organization.
Soon, Du Bois joined the Council on African Affairs, founded by Paul Roberson, another left-leaning leader of the era (Chapter Sixteen, n.d.). The organization supported worldwide anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism and was dedicated to making domestic issues with racial injustice an international problem. Roberson had strong ties with the communists both in the U.S. and was outspoken in his support of the Soviet Union. Members of the Council on African Affairs believed that socialism could solve the problem of poverty in the country, they also promoted pan-Africanism and were active in South Africa.
The existence of various groups committed to delivering racial and social justice for black Americans amplified the general message that there had to be a change and progress. As a response to civil society’s calls and actions, in 1946, President Harry Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (Chapter Sixteen, n.d.). It was created to investigate, assess, and analyze the situation with civil rights in the U.S. In 1947, the commission presented a report titled “To Secure These Rights,” outlining several proposals, including the establishment of a permanent Civil Rights Commission, implementation of anti-lynching measures, and adoption of fair employment legislation. Based on the report, President Truman signed two executive orders, which banned segregation in the federal workforce and the armed forces. This marked a significant improvement in terms of civil rights and a victory for the organizations, which, despite their ideological differences, together contributed to the common cause of ending racial injustice.
Chapter Sixteen. (n.d.). Fighting fascism abroad and racism at home [PowerPoint slides].
Jersey, B. (Director, Writer) & Wormser, R. (Director, Writer). (2002). Terror and triumph (Season 1, Episode 4) [Television series episode]. In W. Grant (Executive producer), The rise and fall of Jim Crow. Quest Productions; Videoline Inc.; WNET Channel 13 New York.