THE DOUBLE-V

When the president “said that we should have the Four Freedoms,” a black steelworker declared, he meant to include “all races.” During the war, NAACP membership grew from 50,000 to nearly 500,000. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded by an interracial group of pacifists in 1942, held sit-ins in northern cities to integrate restaurants and theaters. After a Firestone tire factory in Memphis fired a black woman for trying to enter a city bus before white passengers had been seated, black workers at the plant went on strike until she was reinstated.

In February 1942, the Pittsburgh Courier coined the phrase that came to symbolize black attitudes during the war—the “double-V.” Victory over Germany and Japan, it insisted, must be accompanied by victory over - segregation at home. While the Roosevelt administration and the white press saw the war as an expression of American ideals, black newspapers pointed to the gap between those ideals and reality. Side by side with ads for war bonds, The Crisis insisted that a segregated army “cannot fight for a free world.”

Surveying wartime public opinion, a political scientist concluded that “symbols of national solidarity” had very different meanings to white and black Americans. To blacks, freedom from fear meant, among other things, an end to lynching, and freedom from want included doing away with “discrimination in getting jobs.” If, in whites’ eyes, freedom was a “possession to be defended,” he observed, to blacks and other racial minorities it remained a “goal to be achieved.” “Our fight for freedom,” said a returning black veteran of the Pacific war, “begins when we get to San Francisco.”

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