To what extent was WW2 the most significant turning point for civil rights

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To what extent was WW2 the biggest turning point for African Americans?

World war 2 was a period of great change for the African American civil rights movement. Labour shortages and black and whites fighting alongside each other essentially forced change onto the USA. Blacks found a new sense of identity and willingness to stand up while many whites found their views of blacks to be untrue and respected those whom they fought alongside. Perhaps the best figure to quote here would be the results of a poll which showed that before the war only 34% of white soldiers had “favourable” feeling about serving with blacks, yet by the climax of the war years this had increased to 77%. At the beginning of the war the army accepted blacks but only into separate segregated regiments, for example into the “369th Harlem Hellfighters”. Training bases, barracks and even troop movement was strictly segregated. Equipment was by and large poor compared to their white counterparts, with initial training often being with sticks rather than rifles. However as the war drew on black soldiers proved their worth to the war effort time and time again. Stories of black sailors being the last to give up at Pear Harbour started to emerge. Black airmen successfully flew 200 missions with minimum losses and were some of the first to encounter the new German Me 262 jet fighters. Black regiments proved to be efficient and deadly and the reputation of the Harlem Hellfighters was knows by many. Perhaps the greatest significance of the war on the civil rights movement was that it raised awareness amongst whites and motivated even more blacks to protest for equality. Black soldiers were fighting for democracy and against blatant racism in Europe and to many this seemed rather hypocritical. The “double V” campaign grew massively during the war, calling for not just a victory in Europe and the Pacific but also at home. Groups such as the NAACP grew nearly 10 fold during the war years from a membership of around 50,000 to over 500,000. Labour shortages resulted in mass drafting in of black workers into factories and employment grew rapidly. With over 900,000 black men and women in uniform and an estimated 1.5million in the trade unions, a powerful campaign for change was really starting to emerge.  However, when many of the black soldiers returned from the war, they found discrimination to still be rife at home. For many, the confidence and fighting spirit they had acquired during the war made these conditions simply unacceptable and so stepped up their efforts. To some extent they did have success. The fair employment practises commission (FEPC) gained considerable power and forced many industries to desegregate, most notable the Philadelphia transport company. In 1944 the supreme court ruled in the Smith v Alwright case that the all white primaries of the democratic south were unconstitutional and must change. This opened up the only real election contest in the solidly democrat south to millions of black voters. The war period was also significant for the creation of CORE (congress of racial equality), the main forerunner of the activism of the 1950’s and 60’s. One of the biggest successes during the time period was that of 1948 when the army was officially desegregated marking one of the biggest legal victories for the movement until the full civil rights bill many decades later.  It was also at this time that one of the most significant demographic changes took place in the USA. Many black soldiers returning from the war decided not to return south but instead go north and start afresh and take advantage of the new job prospects. The war on the whole led to a big growth in the “black consciousness” and changed the role of African Americans in US society, as well as for the first time gaining a general level of sympathy and even support from many whites, a factor that would help the movement greatly in the 1960’s. Yet it must be remembered that while things may have looked to have got better during the war, in reality little changed on the legal front, bar perhaps the desegregation of the army. Black men and women were still not equal in the eyes of both the law and many white citizens and it could be argued the as a turning point it was more mental than physical.

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        Other significant time periods must also be looked at to judge the significance of the war, especially those beforehand. Much of the success of the war period built upon actions from the post-reconstruction era. Arguably a very significant “turning point” must be the original civil rights act of 1866 and the 12th, 13th and 14th amendments which freed blacks from slavery and at least in theory gave them their freedom. Many blacks also entered politics for the first time with the 2000 odd “carpet baggers” elected to local positions. If it wasn’t for these changes a black civil rights movement wouldn’t have ...

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