Victory at Home

Victory at Home: Manpower and Race in the American South during World War II

Charles D. Chamberlain
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 282
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Victory at Home
    Book Description:

    Victory at Home is at once an institutional history of the federal War Manpower Commission and a social history of the southern labor force within the commission's province. Charles D. Chamberlain explores how southern working families used America's rapid wartime industrialization and an expanded federal presence to gain unprecedented economic, social, and geographic mobility in the chronically poor region. Chamberlain looks at how war workers, black leaders, white southern elites, liberal New Dealers, nonsouthern industrialists, and others used and shaped the federal war mobilization effort to fill their own needs. He shows, for instance, how African American, Latino, and white laborers worked variously through churches, labor unions, federal agencies, the NAACP, and the Urban League, using a wide variety of strategies from union organizing and direct action protest to job shopping and migration. Throughout, Chamberlain is careful not to portray the southern wartime labor scene in monolithic terms. He discusses, for instance, conflicts between racial groups within labor unions and shortfalls between the War Manpower Commission's national directives and their local implementation. An important new work in southern economic and industrial history, Victory at Home also has implications for the prehistory of both the civil rights revolution and the massive resistance movement of the 1960s. As Chamberlain makes clear, African American workers used the coalition of unions, churches, and civil rights organizations built up during the war to challenge segregation and disenfranchisement in the postwar South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-2722-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Introduction: “Is This America?”
    (pp. 1-14)

    In early 1944 Washington Post reporter Agnes Meyer reflected on her yearlong tour of defense industries and communities across the United States. Throughout her journeys from Oregon to Florida and from California to New York, Meyer exposed the specific social welfare problems facing workers on the home front amidst the chaos of mobilization. In the shipyard communities of Mississippi and Alabama, where housing shortages and overcrowding were most extreme, Meyer recalled her shock at seeing “row upon row of tents, trailers and shacks inhabited by families who had emerged from the neglected rural areas of the southern states.” As she...

  6. 1. Tents, Trailers, and Shack Towns: Mobilizing the Southern Home Front, 1939–1942
    (pp. 15-39)

    In January 1941, Life magazine reported on the progress of military construction projects throughout the United States. While painting a flattering portrait of a new Du Pont ordnance plant in Charlestown, Indiana, the popular journal also focused on the housing problems at Camp Blanding, a new military base outside Starke, Florida. One photograph in particular displayed what Life described as a camp of “penniless migrant workers and their families” that had sprung up “along roadsides and in vacant lots” near the base. “Hoping to get a job,” the caption explained, families “threw up flimsy shelters, lived shivering and starving amidst...

  7. 2. “Empty Sermons”: Race and Economic Mobility on the Southern Home Front, 1940–1942
    (pp. 40-68)

    Manpower problems plagued shipyards across the American South during the fall of 1942. That year, employers complained of skilled white labor shortages, while African American workers continued to find themselves excluded from the yards in skilled and unskilled positions. As the national movement for fair employment tested the integrity of American democratic ideals at home, New Orleans’s local black newspaper, the Louisiana Weekly, chastised the War Manpower Commission (WMC) and defense industry hiring policies, which they believed were at the heart of the job dilemma. “White farmers and common laborers from adjacent territories have been brought in to fill the...

  8. 3. “On the Train and Gone”: Worker Mobility in the Cotton Belt, 1941–1945
    (pp. 69-96)

    In June 1944, lumberman George Franklin of Holly Ridge, Louisiana, complained to the War Production Board that he was “losing men everyday” to E. I. Du Pont and Kaiser Industries in the northwestern United States and Western Moulded Products in Los Angeles. According to Franklin, the company statements that farm and lumber workers “need not apply” did not “mean a thing” as the western companies hired “anyone who [went] to them.” Most frustrating to Franklin was when companies such as Du Pont gave “Negroes money or tickets to send back home for someone [else] to come out there.” Franklin worked...

  9. 4. The Segregation Frontier: African American Migrant War Workers in the Pacific West, 1941–1945
    (pp. 97-128)

    “When they offered me that job to go to Pearl Harbor, that changed my life forever,” declared Arthur Chapman, an African American migrant who worked in the United States Navy Yard in Hawaii. Chapman recalled how when he arrived in Pearl Harbor from New Orleans in the fall of 1941, the limits of opportunity were boundless. That summer, Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 8802 establishing fair employment standards and racial quotas for defense contracts. Yet in New Orleans, federal officials refused to give Chapman any skilled position on any local navy jobs, and the local navy recruitment official threw away...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 5. “We’re Not Here to Start a Social Revolution”: Southern Black Workers Define Equality, 1943–1945
    (pp. 129-153)

    In March 1945, Jackson Valtair, a consultant for the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) in Dallas, held a meeting with the Colored Aircraft Workers Union and white managers at the Convair aircraft plant in Fort Worth. Valtair called the two groups together to discuss a new segregated training program for black workers at the plant. Since the early years of the war, African Americans in Fort Worth had been calling for a training program, and now that Convair agreed to the program, Valtair emphatically assured the management, “We’re not here to start a social revolution.” Rather, Valtair emphasized that the...

  12. 6. “The South Needs the Negro”: Demobilization and Economic Equality in the South, 1945–1948
    (pp. 154-180)

    In December 1945, an African American woman from Lake Charles, Louisiana, wrote to Sam Jones, the former governor of her state. She was responding to an article Jones had written for the Saturday Evening Post in which he advocated raising the standard of living for African Americans in the South as a means of preventing a mass exodus out of the region. The woman, who declined to identify herself, informed Jones that “what the Negro wants is economic opportunity, not social equality.” She then relayed how she lay awake many nights trying to decide where to live, “the West with...

  13. Epilogue: “A Virtual Revolution in Negro Leadership”
    (pp. 181-202)

    In 1946, the CIO initiated Operation Dixie, a campaign to “organize the unorganized” throughout the American South. As Operation Dixie commenced in the spring, many African Americans questioned the CIO'S rhetorical support of nondiscrimination and economic equality. George McCray, in his weekly column, “On the Labor Front,” observed, “The effort to organize white and Negro workers in southern industry will provide an acid test of the CIO’s ability to stick to its policy of equal treatment for Negroes and all other workers.” McCray then questioned the “moral strength” of the CIO in the South. Accusing Van Bittner of scaring off...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 203-258)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-270)
  16. Index
    (pp. 271-288)