restricted access 4. The “New Crowd” Goes Global

From: Race News

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Chapter 4 The “New Crowd” Goes Global InthemonthsafterJapanesepilotsbombedPearlHarborandthrusttheUnited StatesintoWorldWarII,29-­year-­oldpublisherJohnSengstackemovedtoprotect the Chicago Defender against accusations of wartime disloyalty. He met in private with top federal administrators, hoping to forge a “cooperative relationship ” with them. Sengstacke knew these men could cripple the Defender by censoring stories, suspending mailing privileges, withholding paper rations, forcing employees into the draft, and charging him with sedition. He intended to forestall such penalties. Again and again, in one office and then another, SengstackepromisedthattheDefenderwanted“tobeofeverypossiblecooperation to the government in doing whatever it can to improve and help maintain American morale.”1 Sengstacke backed his words with action, publishing in September 1942 a massive “Victory Edition” to demonstrate the Defender’s loyalty. The edition’s editorsenvisionedaninterracialreadership.Thebulkyninety-­four–pagepaper, whichincludedtwomagazinesupplements,aimedtobolsterblacksupportfor the war effort, reinforce the need for national unity, and detail black contributions to American society and war mobilization. Leading white liberals and government officials contributed essays. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and GeneralsDouglasMacArthurandDwightD.Eisenhowerwrotecommendatory letters.Sengstackeexpectedthespecialeditiontoshow“theNegro’sproblemis ‘apartof’ratherthan‘apartfrom’theproblemfacingAmericaasademocracy.” 90  •  Chapter 4 Hewantedtoconvincegovernmentofficialsthatblackprotest“merelyreflects a humiliating feeling of frustration,” not a rebuke of the American way. To do so, Sengstacke exaggerated the potency of interracial goodwill and denied the depth of black confliction toward the war effort. His “Victory Edition” ignored AfricanAmericanswhoevadedthedraftorregisteredasconscientiousobjectors toprotestsegregation.Itnevermentionedhowsomeblacksoldiersandsailors griped about journalists’ efforts to undo military segregation and force them into combat for a nation that denied them basic civil liberties. A few Defender employees—who“believedinpassivesupporttothewar”—refusedtoworkon the edition because of its propagandistic orientation. Sengstacke eventually dismissed them for inefficiency and insubordination.2 Andyet,SengstackeneverrepeatedW.E.B.DuBois’smistakencallto“close ranks”andputoffracialjusticeuntilafterthewar.Instead,editorialeditorMetz T.P.Lochard,aHaitianwhohadtaughtFrenchatHowardandFiskuniversities, appropriated the language and symbolism of the Popular Front to characterize the African American struggle as part of a worldwide interracial movement Chicago Defender publisher John Sengstacke in 1942. Photograph by Jack Delano. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection (LC-USW3-000802-D). The “New Crowd” Goes Global  • 91 againsttheforcesoffascism.Thischaracterizationemphasizedthesharedconcerns of the working class, regardless of race. By broadening the basis of black claims to equality along class lines, Lochard deflected accusations that black newspapers inflamed racial tensions. The edition’s lead editorial, for example, openedwithoutreferencetoracewhenitclaimed“themassesaremoreenlightened ” and “the common man” was no longer content with half-­kept promises. When the editorial turned to the fight for racial equality, it reinforced its universality by asserting that the African American “is now ready to join hands with the rest of suffering humanity as a necessary expedient for winning his freedom.” Only then did the editorial make its central point about the black man: “He is willing to fight, he is ready to die for a free world, but a free world that will include him long after the roar of cannons and bursting shells shall havesubsided.”Similarly,PopularFrontimageryallowedtheDefendertoappeal to readers’ militancy without acknowledging it in text. A full-­page drawing on the edition’s cover was captioned “All for One—One for All.” Readers, though, coulddecideforthemselveswhatmeaningtoattachtotheglowering,muscular blackmanpoisedtodefendhimselfwithabayonetwhileflankedonhisrightby white allies and on his left by armed fighters from Asia and the Middle East.3 TheDefender’s“VictoryEdition”illustratedhowcommercialnewspaperpublishers attempted to reconcile black protest and white scrutiny during World WarIIbyforsakingexplicittextualradicalismforamorecodedmilitancy.Reconciliationrequiredcompromise .Publishersandjournalistsappealedtoblack readersbycontinuingtodenouncesegregationinallitsforms,earningrebukes frommilitarycommandersandcabinetmembers.Simultaneously,theyneutralizedgovernmentinvestigatorsandpresscriticsbyencouragingAfricanAmeri cans to fight for their country even though the nation had repeatedly rejected racial reforms after previous wars. They evaded discussing opposition to war participation,avoideddirectcriticismofAmericancapitalism,anddiminished open advocacy of communism. If successful, publishers knew this perplexing negotiation could force the federal government, military, and white media to recognizethepotencyofblackjournalismandopenaccesstochannelsofpower. Publishers also hoped to bolster circulation—the basis for their exaggerated claims that they spoke for Black America. Dispatches from overseas war correspondents exemplified how reporters moderated but maintained their militancy. War correspondents effusively praised the work of black troops in achieving victory, despite the hardships andpersistenceofAmericanracism.However,theyalsoscrutinizedtheglobal nature of white supremacy when they examined and denounced the Western colonialpowers’subjugationofpeopleofcolor.Theircriticismschallengedthe 92  •  Chapter 4 Allies’ claims of promoting democracy and freedom by linking colonialists’ exploitation of conquered populations to fascists’ violent repression of dissidents . When war correspondents criticized Western colonialism, they reinforcedandbroadenedanappreciationforblackinternationalism ,atouchstone ofblackradicalism.TheycontinuedaradicalcritiqueoftheUnitedStates’racial practices in wartime by examining them from outside the nation’s borders. Correspondentsmarginalizedotheraspectsofblackradicalism,though,when they celebrated the war effort by positing American democracy as a flawed but adequate venue for remedying racial wrongs. “This Tends to Stifle Patriotism” Going to War with a Segregated Military AfricanAmericanshadlittlereasontobelievethemilitaryvaluedblackservice in the years before World War II and every reason to question the motives of anyonewhourgedthemtoenlist.Despitelong-­standingcomplaints,theArmy and Navy remained...


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