The Radical 1940s was rampant with multiple burning social issues that concretized second-class citizenship for the masses of Black Americans.
For example, the American lynching and eugenics movements and the rise of communism made this decade one of the most turbulent periods in contemporary American history.
During World War II, the United States’ desire to become a global superpower via decadent militaristic imperialism hardened the historical magnitude of this era.
The Double V Campaign was a moment of social antagonism and racial transformation, transcending class, gender and religion.
The overarching identity of Blacks was defined by the dehumanization of Jim Crow laws during this era. Separate but equal paradigms symbolized tripartite (economic, political and personal) domination.
Economic subjugation positioned an effective majority of Blacks in the lowest-paying jobs, as Aldon Morris details in his book The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. Compounding the economic marginalization was the racial terror of lynching.
The rise of lynching of Black soldiers in their uniforms after World War I mobilized a segment of Blacks to resist military service. A duality broadened concerning Blacks, putting their lives in jeopardy to defeat Hitler and end fascism while suffering from the daily indignations associated with Jim Crow policies.
When James Thompson, a 26-year-old cafeteria worker at the Aircraft Corps in Wichita, Kansas, wrote The Pittsburgh Courier on January 31, 1942, he presented an ultimatum, suggesting an urgent need for Blacks to reassess if they should fight in World War II.
The Black masses became infatuated with Thompson’s scathing matter-of-fact critique. His letter confirmed the contradictions between the loyalty to uphold American patriotism versus ending the ubiquitous inhumanity of Jim Crow.
Thompson’s warning revealed his disposition: “While we keep defense and victory in the forefront, we don’t lose sight of our fight for true democracy at home.” He continued: “Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life?”
His critique was significant and necessitated a straightforward action-oriented response that ignited a socially conscious slogan, the Double V Campaign: “Victory abroad and victory at home.”
From this realization, an awakening of transformative justice emerged. Eventually, his appeal morphed into an international campaign of rebellion and resistance.
When The Pittsburgh Courier embraced the Double V Campaign, the alliance reconsidered how knowledge is socially situated. The campaign widened the centrality of Black liberation by interjecting the experiences of working-class Blacks as a rhetorical device to eliminate white supremacist doctrines.
When Thompson asked, “Is the kind of America I know worth defending?” the hypocrisy of Blacks joining the rank and file of the U.S. Armed Forces became inescapable, quantified by the continued acts of state-sanctioned violence perpetrated by the White Citizens Council in the Dixie South and the brutality of all white metropolitan police forces in the liberal North.
Thompson’s harsh denunciation persisted, “Will America be a true and pure democracy after this war?” To analyze and answer this question, the modernity of witnessing the police assassinations of Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castillo, George Floyd and others prove empirically that white America is as violent towards Blacks in contemporary society as it was during the lynching movement.
Advocates devoted to reframing traditional master narratives recognize the Double V Campaign as an organic link to the cognitive dissonance found in the provocative analyses of David Walker’s “Appeal,” Mariah W. Stewart’s “What if I am a Woman,” Fredrick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Malcolm X’s “the Ballot or the Bullet,” and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s “Message to the Blackman.”
The Double V Campaign was a highly successful social movement, a point of reference that sparked conversations that interrupted decades of intergenerational discontinuity. It is argued that over 85% of soldiers and sailors embraced its tenets.
Blacks from diverse backgrounds were galvanized around its revolutionary tenor, dedicating their actions, attitudes and behaviors to dismantling Jim Crow, as Eull A. Nielsen explains. At its core, it forced Blacks to reflect critically on their inferior status.
In sum, the Double V Campaign was a watershed moment that stimulated liberatory ideas and movement activity that led to the rise of the civil rights, Black Power and Black Lives Matter movements.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week for African American / Black History Month.
A second-generation educator, historian, and community advocate, he directs the University of Wyoming’s Black Studies Center, the African American and Diaspora program, and works as an assistant professor in the African American and Diaspora department. The inextricable link between historical accuracy and democratic citizenship remains the foundation that frames his approach to teaching, research and service.