Matthew Delmont Discusses the Black American Experience of World War II

Historians in the News
tags: African American history, World War 2, Double V

More than a million Black Americans fought for the United States in World War II.

They fought for a double victory: over fascism and over racism.

But their fight would continue long after the war ended:

"Should I sacrifice my life to live half American? Is the America I know worth defending?"

Today, On Point: World War II from a Black perspective.


Matthew Delmont, professor of history at Dartmouth College. Author of Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad. (@mattdelmont)

Interview Highlights

Why did you write this book?

Matthew Delmont: "I wrote this book because I think this is the history more Americans need to understand. I'm a historian. I'm a professional historian, and I teach history at Dartmouth College. And I've taught about this history for more than a decade. But as I was going through archival sources, going through Black newspapers, I kept coming across stories of average Black Americans who were drafted, volunteered to serve in the Army, the Navy and Marines. And these were not famous people. These are just average Americans from Pittsburgh, from Cleveland, from Chicago. And I was blown away by how many of these stories I saw.

"And it really made me pause and take a step. This is about six or seven years ago, when I started working on this project. It made me wonder, What does the war look like from the African American perspective? Once I paused and kind of really got into the research, I was amazed at how much material was there. When you actually take a step back and understand what the more than a million Black Americans who participated in the war effort, what they did and how vital they were to the war effort. It was a story that blew me away. And it's why I was excited to have a chance to write the book."

What did Black Americans think about the burgeoning war, before America got involved?

Matthew Delmont: "One of the things that's different when you look at the war from the African American perspective is that the war really starts before Pearl Harbor. If you look at a Black newspaper from 1933, 1934, 1935, you'd see extensive coverage of what's going on in Europe. Black Americans are among the first to recognize the really dire threat that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis pose, not just to Europe, not just to Jews, and really to the world. There are editorials and articles already in the early and mid 1930s that call it explicitly, the ways in which Hitler and the Nazis are drawing on American racial policies to justify their treatment of Jews in Europe.

Read entire article at WBUR

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