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Fighting for Democracy

Fighting for Democracy: Black Veterans and the Struggle Against White Supremacy in the Postwar South

Christopher S. Parker
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    Fighting for Democracy
    Book Description:

    Fighting for Democracyshows how the experiences of African American soldiers during World War II and the Korean War influenced many of them to challenge white supremacy in the South when they returned home. Focusing on the motivations of individual black veterans, this groundbreaking book explores the relationship between military service and political activism. Christopher Parker draws on unique sources of evidence, including interviews and survey data, to illustrate how and why black servicemen who fought for their country in wartime returned to America prepared to fight for their own equality.

    Parker discusses the history of African American military service and how the wartime experiences of black veterans inspired them to contest Jim Crow. Black veterans gained courage and confidence by fighting their nation's enemies on the battlefield and racism in the ranks. Viewing their military service as patriotic sacrifice in the defense of democracy, these veterans returned home with the determination and commitment to pursue equality and social reform in the South. Just as they had risked their lives to protect democratic rights while abroad, they risked their lives to demand those same rights on the domestic front.

    Providing a sophisticated understanding of how war abroad impacts efforts for social change at home,Fighting for Democracyrecovers a vital story about black veterans and demonstrates their distinct contributions to the American political landscape.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3102-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. 1-17)

    Beginning in the late 1940s, black Southerners grew increasing forceful in their rejection of white supremacy. Consider 1946, a year in which black Mississippians publicly challenged white dominance on at least two occasions. First, they contested the legitimacy of one of Mississippi’s most popular politicians, U.S. senator Theodore Bilbo. Bilbo, who was seeking a third term in the Senate, was accused of scaring black Mississippians from the polls during the 1946 campaign. Upon lodging a complaint, the local chapter of the NAACP, along with other black organizations, looked forward to ousting from the Senate a man who had opined on...

  6. CHAPTER 1 War, Military Service, and the Prospect for Change: A Glance at History
    (pp. 18-59)

    From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell, African Americans have always answered the call to the colors and have fashioned a long, exceptional history of military service. Examples of African American wartime heroes are legion and include the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment during the Civil War; the Buffalo Soldiers during the Spanish-American War, who saved the hides of Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders; the Tuskegee Airmen, who never lost a bomber over Italy during the Second World War; and the 761st Tank Battalion under General George Patton. Given the historic oppression of African Americans, why have they always answered the call?...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Military Service and Resistance: Toward a Theory of Black Republicanism
    (pp. 60-87)

    In chapter 1, I illustrated the manner in which military service affected the social standing of African Americans. When blacks were allowed to serve and their service contributed substantively to a war’s positive outcome, they were rewarded with progress toward social justice. Conversely, on those occasions when they were not allowed to serve or their combat-related contributions were minimized or flat-out denigrated, their social status remained the same or even regressed. As I emphasized, however, change was not limited to the top-down, government-sponsored sort that occurred in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. As some of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Taking the Crooked with the Straight: The Pros and Cons of African Military American Experience during the 1940s and ’50s
    (pp. 88-111)

    In chapter 2, I defined black republicanism and suggested how it drew on the symbolic meaning of military service. In this chapter I will take the first empirical step toward confirming the influence of black republican ideology among black veterans of World War II and the Korean War by investigating the military experiences of a group of black veterans. The epigraph, one of Douglass’s many trenchant observations, captures the essence of black republicanism. The overarching idea begins with the uniform and the suggestion that donning it should transform one into a member of the national political community. It’s a public...

  9. CHAPTER 4 When Jim Crow Meets Uncle Sam The Veteran Returns to Dixie
    (pp. 112-144)

    In chapter 3, I showed how military experience confirmed the illegitimacy of white supremacy for the black veterans I interviewed, and how it furnished them with the confidence to confront it upon their return to the South. In this chapter I will complete the theoretical framework begun in chapter 2 by illustrating how, for black Southerners who served in the military, the experience produced a belief system that affected their attitudes and behavior on returning home. By way of example, I turn briefly to two of the leaders of the Southern freedom struggle, both of whom donned the uniform during...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Exploring the Attitudinal Consequences of African American Military Service
    (pp. 145-173)

    Black Southerners entered the turbulent 1960s with tremendous momentum. Only a few years removed from the Supreme Court’sBrown v. Board of Education of Topekadecision, their hopes were further buoyed by the passage of the first civil rights legislation in over eighty years. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 sought to ease blacks’ access to the polls in the South. While neither these acts nor theBrowndecision had the immediate impact they were intended to have (Rosenberg 1991), one should not underestimate their symbolic value to black Southerners. Taken together, theBrownvictory and the legislative...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Dying to Participate: Political Participation as a Form of Protest
    (pp. 174-195)

    In chapter 5, I illustrated the extent to which veterans held insurgent attitudes; how they were less inclined than other black Southern males to accept the conditions of domination. What remains to be seen, though, is how far they were willing to go in order to challenge white domination. Sociologist Aldon Morris suggests that black veterans contributed in no small way to black Southerners’ resistance against white domination. “Black soldiers returning from the wars,” he observes, “began urging their relatives and friends not to accept domination. In many instances black soldiers disobeyed the policy of bus segregation and refused to...

  12. CONCLUSION: Taps for Jim Crow in the Postwar South
    (pp. 196-209)

    Black leaders Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois both recognized the value of military service in the pursuit of equal citizenship. Each hoped that the sacrifices made by African Americans would generate policy and legislation equal to their commitment to the nation. In Douglass’s case, these hopes were realized. The service of African Americans was a key factor in the victory of the United States over the Confederacy, and it helped to spur postwar racial reform. Jim Crow settled in shortly thereafter, however, affecting the long-term consequences of reform in the South. DuBois, on the other hand, was bitterly disappointed with...

  13. APPENDIX A: Study Description, Coding, Question Wording, and Other Estimates from Chapters 5 and 6
    (pp. 210-216)
  14. APPENDIX B: Content Analysis of the Chicago Defender
    (pp. 217-225)
  15. APPENDIX C: Interview Methodology and Material
    (pp. 226-230)
  16. APPENDIX D: Profiles of Selected Black Veteran Activists
    (pp. 231-234)
  17. References
    (pp. 235-254)
  18. Index
    (pp. 255-266)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-269)