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Fighting for Hope

African American Troops of the 93rd Infantry Division in World War II and Postwar America

Robert F. Jefferson

Publication Year: 2008

This fascinating history shows how African-American military men and women seized their dignity through barracks culture and community politics during and after World War II. Drawing on oral testimony, unpublished correspondence, archival records, memoirs, and diaries, Robert F. Jefferson explores the curious contradiction of war-effort idealism and entrenched discrimination through the experiences of the 93rd Infantry Division. Led by white officers and presumably unable to fight—and with the army taking great pains to regulate contact between black soldiers and local women—the division was largely relegated to support roles during the advance on the Philippines, seeing action only later in the war when U.S. officials found it unavoidable. Jefferson discusses racial policy within the War Department, examines the lives and morale of black GIs and their families, documents the debate over the deployment of black troops, and focuses on how the soldiers’ wartime experiences reshaped their perspectives on race and citizenship in America. He finds in these men and their families incredible resilience in the face of racism at war and at home and shows how their hopes for the future provided a blueprint for America’s postwar civil rights struggles. Integrating social history and civil rights movement studies, Fighting for Hope examines the ways in which political meaning and identity were reflected in the aspirations of these black GIs and their role in transforming the face of America.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: War/Society/Culture


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Title Page

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pp. vii-ix

During the sixtieth anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and on the heels of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, Brent Staples, in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, struck a chord when he observed how Hollywood movies tended to adopt a multicultural lens to describe the American experience in World War II. Commenting on the motion picture film...

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pp. xi-xv

This book took much too long to write, and I've accumulated some enormous debts of gratitude to family, friends, colleagues, faculty, and archivists in the process. The staff in the interlibrary loan office at Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan provided timely materials at the most crucial moments. Many thanks also go to the dedicated staffs at the main and law libraries...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xvii

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Introduction: Recasting the African American Experience in World War II

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pp. 1-9

It was a moment filled with fellowship, tribute, and sobering reflection. In April 1969, fifteen former GIs and their families journeyed to the ranch-style home of George and Helen Higgins in Pasadena, California, to commemorate their wartime experiences. After the group settled on the well-worn wicker chairs and sofas in the modestly furnished living room, the former servicemen spent a long...

Part I: The Crucible

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1. The Great Depression and African American Youth Culture

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pp. 13-27

In 1934, 19-year-old Leo Logan faced an unsettling future. Born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1915, Logan was raised in a poor working-class family, his mother struggling to support him after the death of her husband and three children. After Leo graduated from high school in 1933, he spent much of his time working an assortment of jobs, ranging from short-order cook to custodian. Finding work in...

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2. Why Should I Fight? Black Morale and War Department Racial Policy

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pp. 28-61

The Great Depression experiences of black youth coincided with the growing American involvement in foreign affairs during the late 1930s. By the early 1940s, the linkage between their growing international awareness and their pre-war circumstances produced a variety of attitudes among young African Americans regarding possible American foreign involvement and the prospects of military...

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3. Of Sage and Sand: Fort Huachuca and the U.S. 93rd Infantry Division

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pp. 62-90

Without so much as an afterthought, Private Jerry Johnson shattered the uneasy truce struck by War Department officials and black press corps members in late 1941. Two months after the U.S. 93rd Infantry Division had been mustered into active duty, Johnson and three other division members had no sooner returned to the 25th Infantry's Anti-Tank Company area when they received an order from...

Part II: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Holds the Shield

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4. Service Families on the Move

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pp. 93-120

In January 1943, Thelma Thurston Gorham stumbled upon a revelation of sorts. After traveling to Fort Huachuca to cover the training activities of the U.S. 93rd Infantry Division, the Crisis reporter was struck by the growing numbers of black women and their families who lived at the military installation. After watching them endure the harsh Arizona sun and the squalid, makeshift dwellings and...

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5. War Maneuvers and Black Division Personnel

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pp. 121-154

In 1943, Ralph Ellison observed that the attitudes of African Americans toward their wartime experiences fell into three categories: acceptance of the limited nature of their participation in the armed forces and defense industries; rejection of the Allied war effort altogether on the basis that they should be accorded the same opportunities as all other American citizens; and a combination of some...

Part III: Race and Sex Matter in the Pacific

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6. War, Race, and Rumor under the Southern Cross

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pp. 157-189

One early April morning in 1944, Lieutenant Oscar Davenport and his platoon found themselves negotiating the dense undergrowth of the Bougainville jungle. The 30-year-old officer from Tucson, Arizona, and other members of the 93rd Infantry Division's 25th Infantry Regimental Combat Team had no sooner entered the Allied defensive perimeter in the Solomon Islands group than they received...

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7. Relative Security in the Southwest Pacific

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pp. 190-220

"I am writing about a matter concerning my brother, Sergeant Samuel Hill," began Grace Davis in a letter written to the judge advocate general in November 1945. On the surface, Davis's missive appears to be quite simple: a letter expressing concern for the physical well-being of a service family member in time of war. But the nature of Davis's inquiry and the sequence of events that it referenced...

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Epilogue: Black 93rd Division Veterans and Former Service Families after World War II

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pp. 221-245

In the 1956 major motion picture High Society, legendary Louis Armstrong and his orchestra perform at a wedding attended by characters played by Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. At the beginning of the film, Armstrong and his fellow band members narrate the premise of the movie while traveling aboard a bus bound for Newport, Rhode Island. Later in the movie, at a dinner party for...


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pp. 247-307

Essay on Sources

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pp. 309-312


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pp. 313-321

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9781421403090
E-ISBN-10: 1421403099
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801888281
Print-ISBN-10: 080188828X

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 11 halftones
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: War/Society/Culture
Series Editor Byline: Michael Fellman, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794701427
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fighting for Hope

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Army. Division, 93rd.
  • United States. Army -- African American troops.
  • African American soldiers -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, African American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Oceania.
  • African Americans -- Social conditions -- To 1964.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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