“Fighting a Two-Front Battle”

Source: Library of Congress. Black soldier, Indian war period, Infantry, Co. D with shoulder knots, holding noncom sword, wearing aiguelette, crossed rifles with “D” on kepi, white gloves plus 3 service stripes i.e. 15 years service. [Between 1866 and 1890] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2010650832/>.

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.

Source: Library of Congress. Unidentified African American soldier in uniform and overseas cap. [Between 1917 and 1918] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2017648692/>.

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.

Photograph shows members of the 332nd, from left to right: Robert W. Williams, Ottumwa, IA, Class 44-E; (leather cap) William H. Holloman, III, St. Louis, Mo., Class 44-?; (cloth cap) Ronald W. Reeves, Washington, D.C., Class 44-G; (leather cap) Christopher W. Newman, St. Louis, MO, Class 43-I; (flight cap) Walter M. Downs, New Orleans, LA, Class 43-B. (Source: Photographer’s notes and Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group pilots.)
Source: Library of Congress. Frissell, Toni, photographer. Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March. Italy, 1945. [March] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007675004/.