African Americans in the military have long had to fight a two-front battle. They fight against the enemy (whether against the British in the American Revolution, Confederates during the Civil War, fascists in World War II, or the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War) and they also fight against racism in the United States.
This two-front battle is a tragic outcome of the legacy of slavery and oppression of black people in the United States. The persistence and dedication of the thousands upon thousands of black members of the armed forces throughout America’s history is truly remarkable. These men and women continually strove to upend the systems of discrimination and disenfranchisement in the United States, revealing their courage and determination in the face of rampant and unrelenting racism.
At the outset of World War II, James G. Thompson, a black member of the segregated U.S. Army wrote, “Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: ‘Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?’ ‘Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow?’…‘Is the kind of America I know worth defending?’”
Thompson’s questions helped to galvanize the “Double Victory” campaign—the fight against racism at home and fascism overseas—during World War II. Sadly, Thompson’s questions still have relevance today, as America continues to grapple with societal turmoil inherited from the past.