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The MOWM has often been seen as representative of new militancy and as the forerunner of the passive protests of the 1950S and 1960S. However, August Meier and Elliott Rudwick have argued that the movement was as much the culmination of past developments as the start of new ones. Blacks had protested aligned with race violence by marching in New York following the riot in East St. Louis in 1917, and the 1930s had witnessed a substantial rise in black protest in the form of picketing and the prevalent ‘Don’t Buy where You Can’t Work’ campaigns, anti-lynching protests, and court actions against separation.

Randolph himself built upon a base recognized as a leading black trade unionist and the organizer throughout the 1920s of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In addition, of course, black organizations such as the NAACP had grown in the 1930S and more significant had gained access to the White House through the ‘black cabinet,’ sympathetic New Dealers, and the good offices of Eleanor Roosevelt. A number of studies have drawn attention to the implication of the New Deal for African Americans, and it may well be that the 1930s and 1940s ought appropriately be seen together 7.

It is enticing to see the MOWM and Executive Order 8802 as a high point in civil rights as both the intimidation of direct protest and the promise of presidential action diminished thereafter. Though the MOWM continued in existence, groups like the NAACP and National Urban League withdrew their support, and Randolph’s call for a civil disobedience campaign in 1943 was usually dismissed by other black spokesmen.

The black media lagged behind the masses. Low turnout at MOWM rallies after 1941 suggests, though that popular support had waned; membership in the NAACP, on the other hand, increased throughout the war years from 54,000 in 1939 to more than half a million in 1945. Given the period of the war and the military difficulties experienced overseas in 1942 and 1943, it is perhaps not surprising that the tone of the black press moderated.

The increasingly indifferent attitude of the government, which urged concentration on the war effort as precedence over domestic social concerns, was also considerable. Roosevelt has been much condemned for his apparent unwillingness to listen to black demands after 1941, but in fact he might have acted as a moderating influence. Patrick Washburn has argued that both Roosevelt and Attorney General Francis Biddle were called upon to impeach black pressmen for sedition in 1942 but resisted.

Moreover when the black press stood its ground Biddle, mindful of the undue use of sedition legislation in World War I, refused to convey the indictments some whites wanted. Indeed, the attorney general reflected the mood of liberals while he expressed concern about the ‘poor treatment of black servicemen, and the disagreement between our profession of faith in democracy and our acts. ‘

Biddle was still much more supporting positive government action than Roosevelt even after the eruption of racial violence in 1943. 1943 has been recognized as the point at which a shift in black protest transpired. That it did so was hardly surprising. Midway through the war, victory was far from guaranteed, and the strains of the conflict took their toll, even in America. Most considerable in terms of race relations was the outburst of racial violence that year. All through the early years of the war race tensions had accumulated as blacks demanded more change and some whites demanded less.

Tensions intensified by overcrowding in defense areas, competition for jobs, conflict over housing, and the stresses of war time exploded in the insurgences in Detroit, Harlem, and other places. Following those events it was barely surprising that the black press moderated its language and called for unity. To propose, however, as Harvard Sitkoff has, that the ‘old-line Negro leadership retreated … to commend white liberals with the job of winning the Negro his rights’ may be too severe 8.

Though the black civilian aide to the secretary of war, Truman Gibson, could say in December 1943 that relationships with the Negro press have never been better than they are at present,’ and report that black servicemen were told ‘to be good soldiers in spite of the numerous things they hear about and see,’ hear about and see,’ racial incidents in the military, and letters of complaint from black soldiers were still available in the African-American newspapers.

In 1944 there was a widespread call in the black press for the resignation of Secretary of War Stimson—described by the Pittsburgh Courier as ‘an obstinate man who is determined to persistence discrimination and segregation in the army war or no war. ‘ Another reasonable influence on the tone of black protest was the truth that by the end of 1943, in spite of the continuance of discrimination and the outbreak of race violence, African Americans could feel that several progresses was being made as a significance of both government policy and the constraints of war.

As a black man later recalled, ‘For me the war period was a very convincing, very exhilarating era. There was a feeling that you had hold of something that was big and urgent and was not going to last forever. There were opportunities for transform which could not subsist after the war was over. The mainly obvious area of progress was in employment where, the war brought the greatest improvements than at several time before with the exception of the eradication of chattel slavery.

as one might not wish to go quite that far, the First World War, after all, had seen a significant shift in black employment, there can be little doubt that the war did bring substantial economic progress. As a black woman remembered, ‘the war and defense work gave black people prospects to work on jobs they never had before.

It gave them opportunity to do things they had never experienced before …. ,’ and she remarked significantly, ‘Their expectations changed. Money will do that. ‘ 9 Not much has been written about these economic advances, but they were usually maintained into the 1950s and were of extensive significance in shaping the wartime and postwar mood of African Americans.

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