Skip to Main Content
Taps For A Jim Crow Army

Taps For A Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II

Phillip McGuire Editor
Benjamin Quarles
Bernard Nalty
Copyright Date: 1983
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jq9c
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Taps For A Jim Crow Army
    Book Description:

    Many black soldiers serving in the U.S. Army during World War II hoped that they might make permanent gains as a result of their military service and their willingness to defend their country. They were soon disabused of such illusions.Taps for a Jim Crow Armyis a powerful collection of letters written by black soldiers in the 1940s to various government and nongovernment officials. The soldiers expressed their disillusionment, rage, and anguish over the discrimination and segregation they experienced in the Army. Most black troops were denied entry into army specialist schools; black officers were not allowed to command white officers; black soldiers were served poorer food and were forced to ride Jim Crow military buses into town and to sit in Jim Crow base movie theaters. In the South, German POWs could use the same latrines as white American soldiers, but blacks could not. The original foreword by Benjamin Quarles, professor emeritus of history at Morgan State University, and a new foreword by Bernard C. Nalty, the chief historian in the Office of Air Force History, offer rich insights into the world of these soldiers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4899-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Bernard C. Nalty

    In the decade sine its publication, Philip McGuire’sTaps for a jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War IIhas established itself as an indispensable source for the study of race relations in recent American history. Dr. McGuire focuses on the United States Army in World War II, deftly summarizing the official policy of granting African Americans better, though not equal, treatment and opportunity within the confines of racial segregation. The blacks whose letters he has collected testify to the cruel contradiction inherent in accepting racism beneath the American flag while at the same time fighting an...

  4. Foreword to First Edition
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Benjamin Quarles

    “Here I am again and gripes are foremost as usual,” ran the opening sentence of a letter written by James Pritchett on January 12, 1944, from Camp Livingston in Louisiana, and addressed to James C. Evans, Assistant Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War. Reproduced in full in this revealing work, Private Pritchett's observations re-echo the note of grievance, the protest refrain, so pervasive in letters written by black soldiers in World War II. The recipient of Pritchett's thoughts was himself a symbol of the settled climate of complaint in Negro soldier circles, for Evans was a black functionary in...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-xliv)

    The integration and usage of black Americans in the armed forces became grave questions for both the military and the black community during World War II. While segments of black America demanded integration and full opportunity for its black soldiers, War Department officials and politicians insisted that the military would not be used as a “sociological laboratory” for effecting social change.¹ Although this attitude reflected the overall policies of the War Department, the Army; however reluctantly and belatedly, did undergo some noteworthy shifts during the war.

    But just as black Americans in the larger society found the American “dream” an...

  7. 1 Uncle Sam’s Boys
    (pp. 1-30)

    Under the selective service Act of 1940, Uncle Sam’s black boys registered for the armed forces in record numbers. Never before had America witnessed such black patriotism in peacetime. For the first time in military history, blacks had greater opportunities to serve their country. Because of the nondiscriminatory clause of the Selective Service Act, which prohibited discrimination in the selection and training of men based on race and color, most black troops thought that the “armed forces of democracy” would accept their soldiery on an equal basis. But as soon as the soldiers were mustered into the services, most of...

  8. 2 The Dilemma of the Black Officer
    (pp. 31-58)

    Why did the army disrespect black officers, question their leadership abilities, and treat them so unevenly during World War II? The answer to this question is in the fact that black officers were generally considered unqualified to command troops, even all-black units. According to the military, black officers never quite measured up to Army standards. Why? Unfortunately, they suffered from a legacy of racist epithets. No matter how educated they were, what special training they had, or how many years they had served, black officers were viewed as men “past the stage of youthful daring and initiative, short on education,...

  9. 3 Laborers in Uniform
    (pp. 59-78)

    America’s involvement in the Second World War did not produce a revolution in the way a majority of its black soldiers were perceived, treated, and utilized. Their usage reflected what had been the official policy of the armed forces in World War I and other major American wars. Most of the black soldiers then as well as in World War II were denied entry to special training schools and systematically placed in labor and supply units.

    When the U.S. finally entered the war as a fighting participant, blacks wondered if they would be assigned to combat units or be restricted...

  10. 4 Illusions of Democracy
    (pp. 79-98)

    For most while Americans democracy meant equality, liberty, fraternity, individual rights, tolerance, freedom of speech, assembly and religion, military duty, and compromise. For most black Americans democracy meant disillusionment. Black soldiers who served in World War II epitomize this devastating, inescapable, and recurring experience. For them democracy was a grand illusion of misleading American rhetoric.

    The racial prejudice heaped upon black soldiers was the bitter reality they were forced to endure as they fought to make the world “safe for democracy,” and all mankind free to live out their fullest potential. They were eager to fight and extremely conscious of...

  11. 5 Biased White Officers
    (pp. 99-124)

    In performing their duties, blacks sometimes were forced to endure the verbal abuse of commissioned and noncommissioned white officers. Often these officers used racial epithets in addressing black troops largely because the War Department had not finalized an official policy on this issue. A number of white officers simply ignored the debilitating effect racial insults had on black troops. Because they were frequently used, black soldiers often reported that the morale among them was low. Attempting to redress this situation, they, with support from Civilian Aides William H. Hastie and Truman K. Gibson, Jr., urged the War Department to issue...

  12. 6 Appeals to the White House
    (pp. 125-142)

    During the 1940s, black Americans in and of uniform forget ahead toward the elimination of segregation and discrimination in the armed forces. Their combined voices represented a strong condemnation of army racism, and they made their feelings known to the Roosevelts and President Harry S Truman.

    But by June 1942, Judge William H. Hastie had become disillusioned over the progress he and other black leaders were making toward redressing the grievances of black soldiers and integrating the armed forces. He remarked privately, “I was never optimistic that it would be possible to persuade the military to eliminate existing racial segregation...

  13. 7 Cruel and Usual Punishment
    (pp. 143-164)

    Please help me! was the theme of black soldiers’ complaints throughout World War II. They complained and asked for relief from being punished when too ill to work, from having to work long hours in all kinds of weather without proper clothing, from enduring life in tents without flooring, from inadequate food and feeding facilities, from shock treatment and blue discharges as punishment, and from an excessive and unusually high rate of courts-martial and sentences.

    The Army’s use of courts-martial to punish blacks became one of the most publicized grievances of black soldiers. Troops from Camp Livingston, Louisiana, for example,...

  14. 8 Northern Racism
    (pp. 165-182)

    Like black Americans nationwide, black soldiers perceived the North as “heaven” compared to the “hell” in which they found themselves in the South. They soon realized, however, that “jim crow” abounded in and about army camps throughout the North. On these posts and in the surrounding towns, black troops were never able to forget that the “color line” more often than not determined their status even in the North.

    One of the most conspicuous examples of the “army color line” occurred in Massachusetts, considered in the 1940s by blacks and whites alike one of the most liberal states in the...

  15. 9 The Dreaded South
    (pp. 183-204)

    Protests of black soldiers stationed in the South were too numerous and too frequent to be mere illusions of racial abuse. For them the reality of southern racism became an invidious form of discrimination that threatened their morale and safety. The troops blamed southern civilians and the white military police for their troubles, and considered the South “worse than hell itself.”

    Hardly a month passed that black soldiers did not complain about being in the South and suffering from the humiliation and abuse heaped upon them by white civilians and white military police. For instance, black soldiers at Jackson Air...

  16. 10 Working with Pain
    (pp. 205-226)

    Black troops blamed blamed racial discrimination for many of their trollbles with physical and mental handicaps in the armed forces. According to the soldiers, their conditions did not, as was normal procedure and practice for white soldiers, incapacitate them for military duty. For the vast majority of those physically disabled, it was either work with pain or be subjected to some kind of punitive action. From 1943 to 1944, examples of these incidents were reported in bitter complaints. The troops tell of humiliation, of having to perform duty with broken bones, spinal injuries, swollen feet, bleeding ulcers, and heart trouble....

  17. 11 Jim Crow Goes Abroad
    (pp. 227-242)

    What to do with black soldier was as much of a dilemma overseas as it was for the Army in the States. In general, however, patterns of segregation and racial discrimination American style prevailed there just as they did at home in America. Black soldiers were usually relegated to labor and supply units, forced to live and be entertained in segregated and inferior facilities, and subjected to the slurs and racist propaganda of white American troops. They also suffered from the racial indignation of local European communities.

    For instance, in 1942, whites in Matadi, Belgian Congo, objected to the stationing...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-262)

    When World War II ended in 1945, a legacy of discrimination and racial segregation plagued the military, black soldiers, and the black community. The soldiers’ letters support this contention, although some are probably exaggerated or misleading. Changes put into effect while the war was in progress establish the legitimacy of the soldiers’ complaints and the protests of the black community. Thus, aprima faciecase can be made that the military’s policy of segregation, which resulted in racial discrimination, was maintained throughout the war. However, important shifts in policies affecting blacks and the changing status of black Americans in the...

  19. Recommended Books
    (pp. 263-263)
  20. Index
    (pp. 264-276)