The 332nd Fighter Group at a briefing in Italy in 1945
Before World War II, African Americans led difficult lives. Segregation, discrimination, poverty, and violence were a constant part of their lives, especially after the economic disaster of the Great Depression. But the Civil Rights movement was steadily gaining steam, and the impact of World War II would help make progress in finding equality. When war broke out in the US in 1941, many African Americans saw enlisting as an opportunity to escape the rural poverty and unemployment that they had at home. African Americans newspapers even saw this as an opportunity to defeat both the enemies overseas and the Jim Crow segregation. This “Double Victory” campaign inspired many African Americans to enlist. They joined the military in large numbers, eager to fight for their country, but despite this they still experienced discrimination even while on duty. While the Army and Navy accepted black soldiers, the Marine did not initially accept enlistees. Many times, the black soldiers were trained separately or given the most menial jobs. Their units were often commanded by whites in order to maintain control. However, as the war carried on, the system of segregation slowly broke down, and slow progress in equality was achieved. However, the disorder of war soon broke down the rigid social rules that had followed the soldiers into war, and African Americans were given more of a role in the war. Many African American units were vital to winning key battles, and some such as Dorie Miller were awarded medals for their achievements in battle.
After serving, many African Americans decided not to return to their rural, choosing instead to move to the city and look for jobs that weresimilar to what they had learned while on duty. However, they still experienced discrimination, despite being veterans. This caused President Truman to sign the Executive Order #9980, prohibiting racial discrimination in the civil service, and Executive Order #9981, mandating equal treatment and opportunity for those who had served. This was a huge cultural change, as it was the first presidential action against discrimination since Reconstruction. More, as the United States tried more and more to be an example of democracy and freedom, Americans began to examine racial discrimination and see how it damaged the nation’s reputation. Because of the disorder of the war, the system of segregation was slowly broken down in the military, and this change was carried into domestic society. As the U.S. tried to become a global leader as a result of its victory in World War II, the country gradually began moving away from the racial that was so embedded in its history.