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tv   African American Soldiers World War II  CSPAN  April 10, 2021 8:29am-9:10am EDT

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companies who support c-span3 as a public service. >> over one million african americans served in the armed forces during world war ii. up next, washington post writer deneen brown and education consulted lynn williams -- consultant lynn williams discussed the challenges they faced. they argued that finding fascism overseas -- while finding fascism overseas, they faced racism at home. this was at the holocaust museum and they provided the video. >> welcome to the facebook live series. i am your host. in each episode, we explore a different aspect of holocaust history and its connections to, its influence on and its relevance to the world today. in the united states, february is black history month and to commemorate this special month,
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we will honor black americans who served in the united states military during world war ii and helped to defeat nazi germany. their service is more remarkable when viewed against the backdrop against racism and persecution that they faced at home, even while fighting for their country abroad. this history has been buried or overlooked often. we hope to shed some light on it and its intersection with holocaust history in today's program. i am pleased to be joined by two special guests to bring this chapter to life. first, deneen brown is an award-winning journalist for the washington post and an associate professor in the philip merrill college of journalism at the university of maryland. hi there. deneen: good morning. it is great to be here. >> so glad you are here. lynn williams is a longtime friend and colleague who is an educational consultant to the museum. so good to see you. lynn: good to see you and good
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morning to both of you and our guests. >> please send your questions by posting them in the comments section and we will get to them as many -- get to as many of them as we have time for. lynn, let's begin with you. we have a lot of viewers less familiar with the american context. tell us about some of the pressures average americans were grappling with in the 1930's and 1940's, more specifically the way that racism influenced the country during that time. lynn: in order to understand this period, i will focus on three major realities. the first was that the united states was in the middle of the great depression. you see, this is a migrant -- these are migrant workers huddled in this tent during the great depression. the second was that we were
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coming out of about 12 years away from world war i. and americans were not interested in foreign engagements. the wished -- they wished to be isolationists and did not have the stomach for another entanglement. the third is the intolerance in general. there was animosity against jews , very pervasive against foreigners. and racism was also at play and rampant all over the country. we think of the south but this is a restaurant in ohio, the picture that you are seeing in front of you. white trade only. that is a prevalent message in the time. there were limited opportunities for black people. much of the country was still segregated. schools and public transportation, bathrooms,
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everything was basically segregated. not only in the south but much of it in the north. and then, finally, there was violence. there was someone lynched in the south perhaps every day. these are students at howard university in washington, d.c., a historically black university, they are protesting. what are they protesting? they are protesting in favor of a national anti-lynching law and that it be passed, which is very strange, since lynching is definitely murder. for people who may not be familiar -- edna: for people who are not familiar with lynching, they will have seen ropes hanging around the next of howard university students. it was mob violence where a person, an african-american person would be surrounded by a racist mob, hung up and lynched. i want to emphasize that the target is not just the victim
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directly of the murder but the entire community. these were crimes designed to intimidate and create an atmosphere of terror and fear. so, against this backdrop, i would like to turn to you, deneen, where we can focus on how this scene that lynn has described intersects with our history at the holocaust museum. how did racism impact black americans who joined the military as the u.s. entered the war. i know you have done reporting in this area. deneen: yes. again, good morning. more than 1.2 million black men and women enlisted in the military to help fight in europe. you see a photo of some of the black men who fought overseas in europe during world war ii. and here is a photo of some of the black women who served in europe. black americans in the military during world war ii faced racism
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and discrimination, really horrible treatment in europe, both by white american soldiers and sometimes by europeans. the troops were segregated by race. they often lived in segregated barracks. many were relegated to menial duties. some veterans told me that black soldiers were often ill treated and that sometimes the german prisoners were actually treated better than the black american soldiers. the german prisoners sometimes have more rights and privileges given to them than black american soldiers. edna: that is a jarring scene to imagine. i would like to pause for a moment to greet our viewers who are watching us from all around the country. good morning to you. thank you for joining us from omaha, nebraska.
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boynton beach, florida, farmington, connecticut. and centerville, minnesota and good morning to you in birmingham, alabama. we would like to welcome our international viewers, whatever the time of day is in berlin, london, nicaragua, barcelona, in brazil, argentina, peru and tanzania. we are glad to have so many of you watching. lynn, dineen has described the way the u.s. military was segregated and unjust. let's make this more personal. you knew one of these black soldiers later in his life. please tell us about dr. leon bass and his experience as a black soldier during his training, even before deployment. lynn: i had the privilege of spending a great about of time with dr. bass because he volunteered and spoke to young
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people from all over at the museum. this is a picture of dr. bass in his uniform when he was a sergeant. he grew up -- he was born in 1925 and grew up in philadelphia. his parents were part of the great migration that was happening throughout this period, where blacks removing up new york and into cities and changing the landscape of those cities. he went to an all-black school but it was an excellent school. he excelled in his studies. as soon he finished high school, he volunteered. world war ii had started and he passionately volunteered for the army in 1943. he went into the army as a sergeant. as he put it, it was really a shock to his system because he was trained in georgia. the minute he hits georgia, whether he is in uniform are
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not, he is faced with segregated everything. he is told you can't use this water fountain. you have to move to the colored only water fountain. and so he experiences racism in the south in a very different way. many of those that enlisted and volunteered were, you know, highly skilled, very smart and they knew they had to be better in order to excel in anything. and especially in the military. edna: when you say better, it you mean better than their white peers. lynn: yes, they had to be more dedicated. they had to demonstrate and over demonstrate how smart they were. they really had to have achieved and be ready to fight for their place.
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to just get equal footing. edna: so, what was sergeant bass' assignment in europe and how did he come to feel about the sacrifices he was making? lynn: he joined the 183rd engineer combat battalion. it was an all-black unit. they usually had a white commanding officer, whether they were with each unit or not. they drove tanks to part building roads, clearing the way for soldiers. he took part in the battle of the bulge. that was the first time where he really saw death and bodies as a soldier at this young age of both strangers and people he knew. so, that was really impactful on his life. edna: we have a comment from a
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viewer named richard. richard writes in i often wondered why these people volunteered because today, more than ever, we know they were treated poorly by their fellow soldiers. i think as a group they had more pride. richard's comment leads in nicely to a clip we have directly from dr. bass describing this in 1988, where he discusses the impact that seeing a dead soldier had on him while he was serving. let's see how he described it. [video clip] dr. bass: i saw somebody i did not know. he happened to be white. he was my age and his eyes were wide open, he had blonde hair and the weather was so cold he had been on the road for a while. i looked into those eyes and i realized i could end up just like that. that is when i began to question my wisdom for having joined the army. i wanted to know why i was
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there. what the heck am i doing here when i can't get a drink of water, when i can't ride on a bus or eat at a restaurant, here i am, putting my life on the line, fighting for rights and privileges that i am denied. lynn: it is important to remember he was a child at the time. it is shaping his perspective of the world. edna: sergeant bass was not alone in seeing this juncture. back home, momentum was building for americans to fight racism at home while simultaneously fighting for their country abroad. lynn, can you tell us about the double v campaign? lynn: yes, because black americans remained conflicted. the double v campaign came about in response to a letter that was written in 1942 to the pittsburgh courier.
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it was a black newspaper at the time. this is one of the publication headlines. should i sacrifice to live half american? that was a question that was asked consistently in the black community. the letter was written by james thompson. this you see, that campaign lasted throughout the war. it certainly affected those who fought. here are soldiers, veterans from 1947, that are still embracing the double v. it is victory at home as well as overseas and abroad with the axis powers. they want to fight hate on both fronts and discrimination. edna: when you are describing media outlets and newspapers like the courier, the press was vibrant at the time.
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i remember reading the official circulation of the pittsburgh courtier -- courier there was 250,000. that represented only a fraction of the readers. newspapers would have been passed from friend to friend, within restaurants, barbershops, families and neighbors. many more people were reading about this debate. lynn: yes. edna: deneen, before i turn to you, i want to offer thanks for friends who prepared. the afro-american historical and genealogical society and they author named joe wilson -- an author named joe wilson, who wrote about the 74th tank battalion that we will learn about. we are grateful for your support. deneen, let's put another face, another personality to these experiences. last year, you interviewed dr.
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james baldwin. tell us about dr. baldwin and his path to military service. deneen: dr. james baldwin, he was born in 1924 in north carolina. we see a picture of him there as a young man. in north carolina, he attends segregated school. -- segregated schools. he is living in a segregated society. we know that lynchings were rampant across the country. he graduates from high school with honors and he goes off to college. after six months in college, he decides to enlist in the army. and he -- edna: and he is in the 784th tank battalion, right? deneen: yes.
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james baldwin is assigned to the 784th tank battalion, one of three all-black fighting units. its motto was it will be done. it was a segregated unit that had an excellent combat record. according to my research, i read that the 784th tank battalion proved to be one of the finest fighting forces in the american arsenal. as lynn was saying, they felt they needed to prove themselves, prove that they were better than their colleagues, prove that they were fierce fighters in the 784th tank battalion, which dr. james baldwin was a member of, they made valeant efforts in
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europe and proved to be a fierce fighting unit. edna: before being deployed to the european theater, he was promoted to the rank of corporal. looking back, what did corporal baldwin encounter when he arrived here? deneen: when they were shipped to europe, they were hit hard. the 784th tank battalion arrives in england, it travels to france , and then it travels to the netherlands. black soldiers, again, in europe, they faced racism. they also were facing a warm reception from europeans as they traveled through these towns, fighting the germans. here, we see a photo of corporal james baldwin.
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the photo was taken in 1945. somewhere in germany. he told me he was not quite sure which town it was in germany when this photo was taken. edna: and what about his interactions with locals? with civilians? deneen: so, many of those black american soldiers, when they rolled through these towns, they were greeted with warm receptions from civilian's. -- civilians. we see here a black american soldier is have hoping -- is helping a little girl with her doll off a truck. that may have been in the netherlands. again, we see here, some young people in the netherlands posing for a photo with black american soldiers. edna: lynn, we have a couple of
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questions coming in from viewers that i would like to post to you. one is from a woman named kimberly asking if you could speak about the experience of black american soldiers upon their return to the u.s. after the war. doreen writes to ask wer black -- were black americans able to access postwar g.i. benefits? lynn: i think they are both excellent questions. you can imagine, we know how celebratory it was for victory in world war ii and why it is so applauded and praised. it was not quite the same for black soldiers when they came home. the discrimination not only continued, but many of them were
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denied the access even to other soldiers, to the mortgages and other benefits. it was greatly diminished. the experience, taking it further, i think deneen can speak more to this, there was violence. these soldiers came home proud, armed, framed and enjoyed wearing their uniform, which caused many of them, as they walked and returned to their communities. edna: it is not just a question of personal dignity, there were many real dangers. deneen, can you give us an example of what happened to returning sergeants as they came back to america? deneen: sure. i want to talk about isaac wooded. in 1946, he was discharged from
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the army with honors. he is a decorated soldier who fought the nazis in europe. he returns to the united states and he is discharged with honor from the army. he takes a bus south, headed home to south carolina. on the way home on the bus, he asks the bus driver whether he could stop to use the restroom. there was a policy for bus drivers to allow passengers to take a bathroom break. as lynn pointed out, many of the soldiers who came back after having fought for democracy in europe were expecting to be treated with some sense of dignity in the united states. to be treated with honor, to be treated with respect, to be treated as equals.
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so, sergeant isaac woodard is on the bus traveling south. the bus driver does not want to stop to allow him to use the restroom. there may have been somewhat of a confrontation on the bus, a verbal confrontation. we are not sure what happened. but at the next town, the bus driver stops, he calls the police. the police chief in the south carolina town greets the bus, he pulls sergeant woodard off the bus. again, this is a decorated soldier, pulls him off the bus, he beats him and takes his nightstick and james his nightstick into sergeant wooda rd's eyes, couching his eyes out. we see a photo with him with his
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mother. there are patches over his eyes. he is blinded. this makes national headlines and president harry truman hears about this beating. many people may or may not know that president truman had a soft spot in his heart for veterans. when he sees this photo of sergeant isaac woodard, he is taken aback. it is a horrible sight. this beating and the photo proms president truman to desegregate the military -- prompts president truman to desegregate the military and the federal workforce. edna: it is beyond troubling to hear this kind of story. it is terrifying and impossible
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to imagine the feeling it must have been to know that for the soldiers, you put your life on the line, you coming back and the idea you feel proud of that service makes people want to kill you for it. to have that patriotism trampled on must have been so profoundly disillusioning, negating the promise the service may have represented as an opportunity. we have a viewer comment and an audience comment from a man named peter. he writes in that even jackie robinson, an officer of the 761st tank battalion, was pulled off a bus for not moving to the back of the bus. while he was enduring a court-martial, his unit was called up to fight for general patton. robinson was acquitted but never got to fight with his legendary unit. these are not isolated incidents. lynn, i would like to return to dr. leon bass. he spent many years not talking about what he had seen in europe.
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especially in concentration camps that had recently been liberated. thanks and recognition only came later in his life when he began to publicly discuss the atrocities he had seen. could you tell us about his personal trajectory? lynn: as sergeant, sergeant bass was only 20 years old when he first encountered the holocaust victims he saw at the camp in 1945. he kept that in. it certainly had a profound effect. like many survivors, it took him 20-25 years to find his voice. it happened when he has become dr. of education, he is principal of the school and he is in his class and a holocaust survivor is speaking. his students are listening but not as intently and he then begins to share his story. and it is there where he really
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found the importance of him as a witness. from then on, it became his mission to share his observations and insights with students all over and all over the united states and canada. edna: let's hear him once again describe, in his own words, what this meant to him and what he took away from it. [video clip] dr. bass: it is not a black problem, it is not a white problem. it is a human problem. and we have to face it. as dr. king says, injustice anywhere is a loss of justice everywhere. words to that effect. it is true. what affects you affect me. your pain has to be my pain and my pain has to be your pain. i know it has been 40 something years that does not make it go away. it only makes us more aware that we have to do something today to stop that which created the final solution.
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and that something is racism. really, racism is at the root of all of this. unemployment, people who are unemployable, large institutions filled with those who are drug addicts and criminals because somehow, we have come to grips with that institution called racism. lynn: that ultimate consequence, he really understood what the consequence was for not finding his voice, not actively fighting against this kind of hatred and racism. it also put him in touch with survivors from all over. one of those survivors, robert wiseman, in 1991, in vancouver
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they met. this is a picture of robert wiseman as a teenager. they met at the engagement when robert remembered him clearly. here they are, the two of them together. remembered seeing, not meeting, but seeing leon bass. he looked up and he said it was the first black person i had ever seen. many years later, as he met the grandchildren of another survivor, who referred leon -- referred to leon and memories of his unit as black angels. certainly his presence has had a great impact on the survivors, those that he helped. edna: for many, we have heard
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that for many of these survivors, this was the first black person they had ever seen. for them, this was the face of america. this was the face of the nation that had fought for their freedom. we are having many audience comments coming in about the impact that dr. leon bass had when he spoke about his experiences because he spoke far and wide read karen writes to say that dr. -- far and wide. karen writes to say that dr. bass spoke. another woman writes that dr. leon bass liberated my father at a concentration camp. my dad had a chance to speak with him years ago at an event in rucker's college. there is someone who might not be alive if not for the efforts of soldiers like dr. bass. deneen, how about dr. baldwin, who i know you have had a chance to meet personally? has he been recognized for his
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service and how did you cross paths with him? deneen: dr. baldwin received two bronze stars in 1946. and many other honors and awards. other honors and awards. last february, i went to the embassy at the kingdom of the netherlands where they were honoring black american soldiers on the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the germans, and -- in these occupied towns. here's a photo that i took of dr. james baldwin with officials at the embassy of the netherlands. they had just given him a certificate of appreciation for his service, and the 784th tank battalion, which rolled through towns in france and the netherlands, fighting the germans. during this event, it was just
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really amazing to hear the story told by dr. james baldwin of his service. you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium as dr. baldwin told about rolling through these towns in the netherlands and fighting the germans. i had a chance to interview dr. baldwin after the event, and again he told me his story of fighting the germans. he told me that he fired and 81 millimeters mortar gun at nazi troops which had a stranglehold on holland. here is a quote that i really loved from my interview with him. he says, "we took 23 cities in three days. we were really moving, we were
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taking the cities meaning killing germans and running them out. we came in and we liberated them. to know that i had a role in the liberation of holland means a lot." the embassy of the netherlands honored baldwin and hundreds of other black soldiers as part of their commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation. lynn: free -- edna: freeing them from german occupation. i hope you will have a chance to look at the lively discussion happening in the comments section of the show. we are getting audience reflections about dr. james baldwin including one from a viewer named nadine who says that he is 96 years old and still brilliant and she plans to share this program on facebook and somebody else writing into say that james baldwin attended fayetteville state university, another historically black university and is celebrated there.
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so, certainly a hero. i am also struck looking at these pictures of then corporal baldwin in europe, and then later at the embassy of the kingdom of the netherlands saying that these are people whose lives will -- would have never intersected, and how the forces of history brought them together. in the last minutes we have left i would like to ask you a more reflective question. here we are 75 years after the holocaust, a violent eruption of racism and we are still grappling with the forces of bigotry and hate. what messages do you hope that viewers will take away from these complex stories of true american heroes and, lynn, let us start with you. lynn: certainly the struggle still continue for not only black people, but for all americans. understanding history is exceedingly important because
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history shapes us. personally, it shapes us. for me, this commitment to understanding where we have come from and why we sit where we sit today is everyone's mission. and then going forward, knowing as dr. bass who found his voice understood that what each of us does matters. deneen: yes. i would like to say that racism is truly ugly, people -- evil, and it is important that we fight it. i often say that it is important that people educate themselves about racism. race is a social construct. it is a term that is invented by
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society to divide us by our skin color. what i believe is that we are all human, all part of one race, the human race, we are just walking around here in different packages. but we are truly part of one race of people. and, it is important that we see each other just as humans. when you cut me, i bleed. i think that if we are able to overcome this racial divide that society has tried to construct to divide us, we will find -- i think we will find a better world and the world will be better as a result of that. edna: i want to thank you both very much for helping we hope to to introduce some of our
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audience members to history we have met -- they have never heard of before and help us honor, even belatedly, these men and women charting difficult waters at a time of competing pressures. thank you. lynn: thank you. edna: i would also like to close with a comment from a viewer named peggy who writes "white history has been every day for many years, spoken about. text written about while black history was excluded. celebrating the contributions of lack soldiers is righting a wrong. this is about being better human beings." and peggy, i am sure we are all in agreement with you and i hope you will come back to the museum's website to see more for hit -- first-hand testimony from african-american soldiers who fought for the u.s. during the war. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> american history tv on
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c-span3, every weekend documenting america's story. funding comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service. >> today on "the civil war," laura june davis talks about confederate vote burners and naval guerrilla action on the lower mississippi river during the last years of the civil war. >> if we look at the boats that the naval guerrillas are targeting, these are vessels known to transport u.s. troops. they are known to carry supplies. this is public knowledge and they are taking that to their advantage. they also wants to distract the u.s. military from their primary cause, they will have to shift attention, men, resources, and intelligence away from the battlefields to the mississippi river to help slow down efforts.
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if we look at what is going on with provost marshal j. h. baker and joseph hult they spent a ton of resources trying to identify, locate, and arrest the boat burners, especially those out of st. louis. when you read the papers, his frustration mounts as you keep reading. you can feel how frustrated he is. the second thing that is motivating boat burners are economics. they want to disrupt u.s. trade and commerce along the waterway and they want to destroy vessels that have an innate value but they are also aware that these are carrying products that have a value and may or may not have insurance. and, the boat burners wants to line their own pockets. it turns out that boat burning is extremely profitable. and that is because the can
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federal government incentivizes -- confederate government incentivizes this type of sabotage. in 1864, the confederate congress authorizes the rebel government to pay naval guerrillas up to 60% of the damage. if you can prove you have destroyed a boat, you will get paid. we have evidence of boat burners that were captured in memphis, that were former police officers that turn into naval guerrillas. they have a list of all of the boats traveling and what their value would be if destroyed. so we know that they are motivated economically. >> watch the full program today on "the civil war" at 6:00 p.m. eastern, 3:00 p.m. pacific on american history tv. >> josephine baker, virginia hall, and muslim pacifist noor khan were reported as -- recruited as prize -- spies


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