After the first world war, many African Americans migrated to the north, but some stayed in the south. They got jobs or farmed their own land. Their white neighbors didn’t always like them, especially if their crops were more successful. But World War II came, bringing change again.
- During the late 1920s, the Great Depression began. People everywhere lost their jobs and even their homes. During this time, Adolf Hitler was building his war machine in Germany. His goal was world control and he didn’t like anyone who he thought was different, including people who were black, disabled, Jewish, or gay.
- During this time, an African American boxer, Joe Louis Barrow, fought a German named Max. Joe Louis lost the first match, and Hitler was excited for another match to prove to the world that the Germans were superior to others. But when Joe Louis got in the ring, he beat Max in the first round.
- Unfortunately, one little boxing match wasn’t enough to stop Hitler. He soon controlled much of Europe and ordered the murder of millions of Jews (and others).
- The U.S. tried to stay out of the war, until Japanese bomber planes hit Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Hawaii.
- When the U.S. entered the war, thousands of American men and women volunteered or were drafted. African American men wanted to fight too. At first, they were given menial jobs like cleaning, rather than being allowed to fight. But first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, convinced her husband President Roosevelt to let them be soldiers.
- Several of these all-black battalions were among the strongest, most successful groups in the war. But none of them received medals or commendations from the president for their service until several decades later.
- African Americans helped fight for freedom during World War II, but when they came home, they realized that they still weren’t given equal treatment in the U.S.
Visit the Smithsonian to learn about African American contributions to World War II.