Returning from war only to die for freedom

Jonathan Kaupanger
February 16, 2018 - 2:28 pm

National Archives photo


“We, as colored Americans are determined to protect our country, our form of government and the freedoms which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world, therefore we have adopted the Double ‘V’ war cry—victory over our enemies at home and victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad. Thus, in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslavers at home and those abroad who will enslave us. WE HAVE A STAKE IN THIS FIGHT...WE ARE AMERICANS, TOO!” -Pittsburgh Courier, February 1942

The Pittsburgh Courier started the Double V Campaign as a way to highlight the discrimination of black Americans.  Segregation and discrimination was becoming intolerable.  The first V was for “victory over aggression, slavery and tyranny.”  The second V was specifically for African Americans who were fighting for freedom overseas and back at home.

The campaign in the 40’s was a way to bring attention to the fact that African American’s were risking their lives fighting for the freedom of millions and millions of people, yet, they were denied rights as citizens in the US. 

Here are two stories of African American veterans who kept fighting for freedom after the end of World War II.

Feb. 1946:  On February 12, Army Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr. received an honorable discharge and hopped onto a bus to head home. Still in his uniform when the Greyhound bus pulled into a rest stop outside of Augusta, Georgia, Woodard asked the driver if there was time for him to use the restroom.  The driver, after arguing with Woodard finally caved and let the new veteran use the facilities. Woodard did his business and returned to his seat.

Even though Woodard hadn’t caused a disruption, the bus driver called the police at the next stop. They forced Woodard – again, still wearing his US Army uniform – off the bus.  The group of police took Woodard to an alley where they beat him with their nightsticks.  He was taken to the town jail and arrested for disorderly conduct.  They accused him of drinking beer in the back of the bus with other soldiers.

During the night, the Sheriff beat and blinded Woodard. Due to his injuries, Woodard also suffered partial amnesia. The next day he was brought before the local judge who found him guilty and fined him $50. Still, with amnesia, he was taken to a hospital in Aiken, South Carolina until his family found him and he was rushed to an Army hospital. He would never regain his eyesight. 

May 1946: About 50 miles east of Atlanta, in rural Georgia, Army veterans George Dorsey and Roger Malcom were in a car, along with Dorsey’s wife Mae – who was seven months pregnant and sister, Dorothy, who was married to Roger. An armed white mob blocked the road and dragged the two men out of the car to beat them. 

Typically, women weren’t lynched, but one of the black women recognized someone in the gang. Both women were pulled from the car and taken to a big oak tree and tied next to their husbands.  The mom opened fire. The coroner’s report stated at least 60 shots had been fired. After Mae was shot, the fetus was cut from her body with a knife.

No one was ever brought to trial for the crime.

By 1945, there were more than 1.2 million black men in uniform and about 125,000 African American’s served overseas during WWII.  When they returned home, they were met with rules that told them where they could walk, talk sit or eat.  Black veterans could fight and die for their country, but at home couldn’t even offer his hand – to shake hands – with a white male, because it implied that he was socially equal. 

The US was proudly fighting racism of Hitler’s Germany, but her black troops were assigned to service duties like cleaning white officer’s rooms and latrines. No matter their sacrifice, Jim Crow was the law of the land at home.  Black military police weren’t allowed to enter restaurants where their German prisoners of war were allowed to eat.

The idea of desegregating the military started in December of 1946 with President Truman’s President’s Committee on Civil Rights.  On July 26, 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which abolished racial discrimination in the US Armed Forces and would eventually lead to the end of segregation of the services.

In October of 1953 the Army announced that 95 percent of African American soldiers were serving in integrated units.