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tv   Effects of Pearl Harbor on African Americans  CSPAN  December 31, 2021 5:21pm-6:37pm EST

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brother served in the army and it was more favorable to the army's position. so there was a talk of asking emperor hirohito to step down and replace him with the younger brother. because of that their relationship is not that close. >> funny how that works. >> he was annoyed because his mother the empress actually, her favorite was the prince. that made it difficult for him, too. >> so we promised you gossip and we delivered. >> excellent. [ applause ] >> thank you to rich and our two panelists. >> the international conference
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on world war ii hosted by the national world war ii museum in new orleans continues. next, a discussion on the bombing of pearl harbor impacted african-americans. >> if you're not back, please take your seats. you'll see this next panel is raring to go. they have occupied in force. they beat me up to the stage. they're already here ready to go. and so we're going to oblige and continue mission. with this session, we're going to shift gears a little bit. and we're going to look at a different lens. we started the first lens was kind of the american experience and view. the road to war, a strategic one. the second one was the japanese perspective. and now we're going to provide a different perspective, bringing things a bit closer to home, providing an introspective on the experience of african-americans in the conflict. now, we have a great team here. museum presidential counselor
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and franklin professor and chair at the history department at the university of georgia. guo dogs. dr. john morrow. pretty amazing. pretty amazing. i'm a bit of a clemson fan myself, but -- you know, i remember the days of herschel walker. it's great to remember. and he's joined by historian dr. robert chester. they'll discuss the impact of the pearl harbor attack on the african-american community and how we remember world war ii today. now, joining them on stage, a great opportunity to introduce you to more of our team, our chair is our institute historian, dr. steph hinnershitz. she's happy. so steph joined the institute last summer. she's earned her ph.d. from the university of maryland at college park. where i did, too, and she's
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taught at several colleges but also at the history department at west point, which is also near and dear to our hearts. she's the author of three books, her most recent book came out just this year, from the university of pennsylvania press, japanese american incarceration, the camps and coerced labor during world war ii. i look forward to an amazing, provocative panel. steph, the floor is yours. >> thank you, everyone, for coming to the session. i'm really excited to be able to chair it and honored really because i think it's a necessary addition to this symposium, like mike had mentioned, we spent most of the day talking about grand strategy and talking about pearl harbor as something kind of over there or something that seems to be a little separated from the home frnlt, but we get to switch gears and talk about
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how pearl harbor impacted society and specifically the african-american community, but also how we remember world war ii and pearl harbor. and i think this session and panel was brilliantly organized around one figure, which i think most of you are familiar with. and if you're not, you will become familiar with him thanks to dr. chester over there, and that'sdory miller. so this is a way to kind of frame this panel, to understand the life of dory, but more specifically, what kind of impact he's had on how we remember world war ii. before we do that, let me set up the world of dory miller. the doctor will explain where he comes from and the impact of pearl harbor on the african-american community. so turn it over to john. >> thanks, steph.
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>> a pleasure to be back here. i should say this is the first time i have flown since covid-19. i camhere in 2019 for the last of the symposium in person, then i was doing b-24s and b-17s. now i have to come back down to earth for this conference, the one tomorrow will deal with civil rights and i don't want to take anything from what we're doing tomorrow, and what i plan to do today is to talk about african-americans in the 1930s primarily up to 1942, after the
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attack on pearl harbor. and i should warn you that i am not going to mention dori miller except now, because that's my colleague's job, robert chester. i'm anxiously looking forward to hear what he has to say. the 1920s were not a prosperous decade for african-americans, as they were for some folks. in the 1930s, with the full onset of the great depression made things even worse. the migration out of the south that had started particularly in 1915 with the boll weevil epidemic had blossomed during the first world war, some 500,000 african-americans left the south to move north and west, mainly north at this point in time. and they had jobs that were waiting for them there and a better life, which they would not be subject to daily
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humiliations and the potential of lynching in most places. and when world war ii came, the prospects and possibilities for work, employment, you name it, surged enormously, but the background to all of this is the epic of white supremacy. jim crow and segregation. the 1930s in a sense kicked off with the trials of the scotsboro boys in alabama, who were wrongfully accused of rape, a boxcar, two white women, one of whom admitted later that she lied, but regardless of the changes in evidence, these young men, the oldest of whom was 19, the youngest of whom was 12, could never get a fair trial and one of the conclusions because it was fought through the courts up and down, back and forth, was that it was impossible for a black person to get a fair trial
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in particular the south, when you had all white juries or even if you had one black juror, and i hate to mention this contemporary point, but in georgia right now, the trial of these fellows who shot ahmaud arbery is exactly the same situation, where there's only one black juror, and people are wondering what the hell is going on in georgia other than football. i have no answers there yet. a few beacons of light shone for african-americans through the bleak '30s. jesse owens' sweep of four gold medals at the berlin olympics in 1936 offered a strong refutation of the myth of aryan supremacy. joe lewis' pummeling of a german boxer in their return bout of 1938 made the brown bomber a national hero in whom african-americans took
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particular pride. and on easter sunday in 1939, marian anderson sang "america" before broadcast microphones and a crowd of some 75,000 people. this was on a blustery cold day at the lincoln memorial in a concert that represented a strong protest against discrimination because the daughters of the american revolution would not let her sing in constitution hall, and eleanor roosevelt as a result resigned from the daughters and then proceeded to help stage this miraculous performance, and the point was that it was to stand against the kind of segregation that people had known. and quite successfully. the african-american freedom struggle forged ahead in the mid to late 1930s.
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now, some people believe or have a sense that the struggle for civil rights really gets kicked off in world war ii. it's interesting how we have in our discussions of civil rights, we acknowledge now that a number of people who came out of world war ii were not -- not just african-americans, but a number of white people who served in world war ii concluded that segregation really was wrong and we needed to do something about it. and people think, all right, the beginning of the civil rights movement. it doesn't begin there. it begins much further back. you could even go before world war i. but let's focus on the '30s. in 1937, mary mcleod bethune organized a council on negro affairs often known as the black
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cabinet of leaders such as a. philip randolph, the head of the sleeping carporters union, who had been a well known radical even during the first world war. and walter white, executive secretary of the naacp. and they were called to represent black interests in the new deal. it's also worth it to note that walter white and mary mcleod bethune were personal friends of eleanor roosevelt, who during the second world war often took stanz supporting african-american achievement and particularly you might remember when she flew with chief anderson, who was a trainer of the tuskegee airmen at tuskegee. she said i'm going to fly, and so chief took her on a flight, which certainly impressed everyone present.
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and others as well. naacp legal counsel charles hamilton houston, i'll have a lot more tosay about him on the next -- tomorrow -- launched a new initiative to fight segregation in 1934. and in 1939, helped create the naacp's legal defense fund to fight for civil rights. and for those of you who are aware of it, the legal defense fund now is actually a separate entity from the naacp, which continues to fight discrimination. in 1938, houston protested vigorously segregation and discrimination in the u.s. armed forces, but to no avail. on the other hand, the new deal's works progress administration, there -- the wpa, employed black individuals,
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not just in construction and so on, but in many cultural realms and a number of these people would become very famous. author zora neal huston, her eyes were watching god, one of her famous novels. richard wright, author of native son, ralph elson, author of invisible man, all these people got their start working for the wpa, as did african-american artist jacob lawrence, who had be become famous in time. in 1938, mobilization for the coming war in the late '30s finally lifted the united states out of the grips of the depression and put americans, black and white, back to work. in september 1940, african-american leaders met with members of the
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administration to press for the ends of segregation and discrimination in the armed forces. but roosevelt demurred, preferring not to disturb the status quo of racially separate units or with white officers, of course. the navy announced in 1940 that it would list black men only as mess men, cooks, and stewards, to the protest, the vehement protest of african-americans. the marines remained lily white. in january 1941, a. philip randolph and other black leaders determined to call for a demonstration of 100,000 people in washington on july 1st, to demand equal opportunity for african-americans' jobs in the defense industries and an end to
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their goingrogation in the military. five days before the march, roosevelt issued executive order 8802, which banned racial discrimination in the defense although its enforcement was toothless. anyone who keeps up with the racial conflagrations in detroit and around detroit and the ford factories remains aware that segregation and racial difficulties were rampant in the war industries. but i have a little quiz for just a second. there's an interesting exception to this rule that black and white americans could not work together on production lines. and that they could not receive
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equal pay for their work. and i'm sure it's an industry we all know. where is it? and what's the name? the higgins boat company. absolutely. that makes it a rarity. so always remember, if anyone gives you any crap about being from new orleans or being around here, you just say, higgins boat company. and that will shut them down because they won't know what you're talking about. all right. one of the reasons that roosevelt capitulated to such demands was the international embarrassment that was certain to occur, as america had anticipated fighting for democracy and broadcast that it was fighting for freedom, the four freedoms and so on abroad, would surely be branded as hypocritical for its treatment
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of its black citizens. in fact, and this is something that people often are not aware of, after world war i, the japanese government had launched a strenuous propaganda campaign among the colored people of the british empire and african-americans here in the united states to essentially convince them that the japanese were the only power working for the improved circumstances of the repressed colored peoples of the world. after all, japan in the war of 1904-1905 had defeated the russians and therefore became the first colored nation to defeat a white nation in war. and then the japanese in 1919 further demanded inclusion of a
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nondiscrimination clause in the league of nations covenant. well, the europeans' rejection of this proposal simply added fuel to the fire of any admiration that subject peoples and african-americans might have held for the japanese. but all this became moot on december 7th, 1941. with the japanese attack on pearl harbor. a number of things actually became moot with the japanese attack on pearl harbor. the america first movement which represented some 800,000 white americans who sought to keep america out of the war and displayed anti-semitic and pro-nazi attitudes completely disappeared within days of pearl harbor, as went the way of any support for the japanese. of course, the fact that hitler
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conveniently declared war on the united states on december 11th, figuring we were going to be in it anyway, put a cap on the nazi movement in the united states, which had been very popular and very vocal in the 1930s. now, african-americans, of course, had no attraction to hitler because they sympathized with the jews of germany subject to the nazis' brutal anti-semitism. joe lewis, in fact, replied succinctly to the jibes of those few who criticized his enlistment in a white man's army, and i quote in 1942, with the succinct statement, lots of things wrong with america, but
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hitler ain't gonna fix them. i think that captures it all in a nutshell. and i should say as well, i do this to appease jeremy collins who is sitting in the back, who wanted to work that statement in somehow, into my presentation, and i have succeeded. all right. all right. the pittsburgh courier announced its vv campaign in february 1942, and this is really what pulled the whole thing together for african-americans. the vv, victory over fascism abroad and racism at home, enemies without and within captured the fancy of african-americans. it made sense. the campaign signal that african-americans would not
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accept the discrimination, repression, and outright violence they had experienced during and at the end of the first world war, this time in fact they were in the war to win on all fronts. thank you very much. >> okay. thank you very much. it's a rare privilege to be here. if i had thought of it in time, i would have called this talk the mess man, the machine gun, and the medal. i didn't think of it in time, but that is the title. what we know about doris miller, dori miller, is summed up in those three words. like all african-americans, he
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was a member of the stewards branch, forbidden from service above decks. but on the day of pearl harbor, serving on the west virginia, he manned the machine gun, fired away at the japanese before diving overboard and helping other sailors get out of the water. for this, he received a medal. he was the first black american to receive the navy cross, which admiral chester nimitz gave him in may 1942 aboard the uss indianapolis. here he is getting the prize. these are the images of miller that we see the most. he was also after his receipt of the medal, the subject of an officer's war information propaganda poster, as you can see. much later, in 2010, he was the only black american featured in the u.s. postal service distinguished sailors stamp collection, three white officers
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and dori, there he is. i've still got mine and i can assure you they won't be on letters anytime soon. doris miller, that's the ship that was named after him. here's a much later picture. from 2020. 2018, forgive me, when the doris miller memorial was opened in waco, texas. you can see him proudly wearing his medal in these pictures. here he is in a more recent navy poster, as a trail blazer for a recent african-american history month. here's the image again, doris with his medal. at the announcement of the new ford class supercarrier, the uss doris miller, which we'll go to
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see some time in the 2030s, but which is under construction now. those are members of his family along with current sailors. here's another image from that day with u.s. officials and the remaining miller family standing proudly alongside an image, again, doris with his navy cross. the other images we see are of his time at the machine gun. this is what made him famous, what got him the medal ultimately. this is a painting by the african-american artist elmer brown, from 1942. this is a cartoon which was actually drawn in war time, i put '51. it was printed many, many times in the black press. again, we see doris firing away at the japanese in his moment of glory. here he is in a film that was mentioned earlier, briefly in the long rather protracted tora,
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tora, tora, he gets about ten seconds. he doesn't do it for doris. he fires his machine gun and swims off into continuing obscurity. perhaps most famously, here he is played by cuba gooding jr. in disney's epic "pearl harbor" from 2001. at the machine gun, again, blasting away in a rage of patriotic intensity. here he is alongside cuba gooding jr. in a sort of remade propaganda poster which came out alongside the film. this is one of my favorites. the mattel company battleship road offender. it doesn't say doris miller, but who else could it be, and he's got his machine gun with him. mess man, machine gun, medal. these have become in the abridged tale of doris miller
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that we hear, moments of affirmation in american history. despite segregation, doris was loyal, patriotic, heroic. despite its reluctance and its segregated nature, the u.s. navy gave him a medal, the first such medal to be given to a black american. and it signifies for many progress, right? john already referred to this, world war ii is the moment from which we accelerate forward into a desegregated future. this is after all what tom brokaw famously called the greatest generation any society has produced, quite the phrase. so miller's stand at the machine gun has become our memory, not the history, how is the story told, what meanings are attached to what doris did and what the nation did for and didn't do for him afterwards. a flash point after which prejudice receded, we are told.
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ronald reagan speaking in 1975 in north carolina said that there was great segregation in world war ii, but this was corrected during the conflict. doris, he said, cradled a machine gun in his arms, which is an interesting image. and all that was changed, instant progress in the reagan fantasy of pearl harbor. in the movie, the 2001 movie, as doris gets his medal, that's the last we see of him in the story. a white nurse played by kate beckinsale says that the nation surged forward after doris' heroism. it was a war that changed america. doris was the first black american to be awarded the navy cross, but he would not be the last. he joined a brotherhood of heroes, unfortunately, the rest of the film takes us on a trip with ben affleck and josh hartnett, maybe not ben affleck, but the rest of the white heroes get the film and doris disappeared with his medal,
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never to be heard from again. i'm not saying for a second that what doris miller did wasn't important, because it was. but what i am saying is that the story of the mess man, the machine gun, and the medal abridges, sanitizes, makes comfortable and palatable and much more complex history. doris need not go back below decks and die on the bay in november 1943. his mother, henrietta, need not live out her days in bitterness at the treatment her family received after her son's heroic acts. civil rights activists need not continue the struggle for integration in the military and the rest of society beyond the end of the war, because after all, all that was corrected. ronald reagan said. the navy in war time did not want to recognize doris miller.
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they would not have told us his name had it not been for the activism of the pittsburgh courier and the national association for the advancement of colored people, the naacp. he posed a dilemma. he was proving wrong the wrong s behind segregation. but at the same time the navy didn't want to alienate black americans, which they would have done had they ignored him completely. but they didn't want to make significant changes either. so they gave him a medal. and they sent him on a speaking tour at the end of 1942, a month or two he went round, selling war bonds. and here he is in rather unglamorous surroundings at the great lakes naval academy speaking to an audience that appears rather uninterested if you look at those fellas in the corner. nonetheless he did it. and this was, of course, good
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propaganda. there were also commercial exploitation of miller, which i shall come to in a moment because i have the wrong slide. this is an example of the dissent that continued to be spoken about what miller had done. things weren't corrected. people understood this. this is a pamphlet in the international labor defense, the ild, which is a communist organization. on the front cover, 1942, we've got nem its pinning the medal on miller, on the inside we have a map showing acts of aggression, violence, even murder inflicted on black americans since the start of the war. even black americans in uniform. so the ild was saying there's a long way to go here. the medal doesn't solve anything. there were commercial ventures, too, apologies for my photograph of a table as well as this image from the library of congress. this was a print issued by a company called "timely," and
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conry's mother -- doris's mother, henry etta connor was his dad. got some money out of this. this was sent to the naacp as well and the naacp dismissed any notion of cooperating. and pointed out rightly that looks absolutely nothing like doris miller but these were sold in the black press and it was seen as a patriotic thing to have one but there were in copy cat schemes and mrs. miller was shunted out of the process, people were exploiting doris' actions. after the war there is a period of forgetting. there is also a persistent resistance by the navy to give doris a medal of honor. that campaign started the minute the news broke and it goes on today. i spoke with some members of the congressional black veterans caucus not long ago. still after this medal of honor. navy had a form rejection letter they would send out. but pearl harbor became very
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quickly a cold war metaphor when albon barkley, the vice president, spoke on the 10th anniversary, he didn't mention japan or doris miller. it was about preparedness, let's not let a nuclear -- happen to us. race was also, as john pointed out, an issue in the korld war, the russians never tired of pointing out that the leader of the free world segregated its black population, propaganda from communists was collected by the state department quite religiously. ebony magazine, a black magazine said in '51 that racism was the pearl harbor in our midst, exposing us to russia's eye tack but not very much was said about doris. you don't want to bring that up if you're trying to pretend race is not that big of a problem. but others saw the need to preserve memory of the heroic mess man. they wanted to use him to
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stimulate further change. i'll get to that. in 1945 the african american poet gwendolyn brooks wrote a poem called "negro hero," characterizes the united states as a white woman in a flowing gown. she describes this as doris' fair lady, a seductive figure. but in the sleeve of this fair lady is held a sharp blade ready to puncture his patriotic ambitions and desires. his dad, conry, went on the radio during the war, and was asked if he thought that black and white servicemen fighting and dying together was making a big change. and connory miller rather bluntly said i haven't seen any changes yet. the radio program stopped. the announcer sputtered, and i don't know what he said but i can imagine, we'll be right back after these messages folks,
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let's do something else. community remembrance was where miller's legacy was preserved. in '43 el ma fowler, a chicago reverend, started a foundation and he presented awards every year to those who were seen as having helped the progression of segregation -- integration, goodness me, in america. jackie rob inson. medger evers, john f. kennedy, even aretha franklin. there were schools, american veterans posts, ymcas named for him, and also the ever persistent medal of honor campaign. the navy preferred to keep quiet, until, in the late '60s, when as you all know, race relations in the united states entered a new and fractious phase with black nationalism rejecting the idea of military service. vietnam, there were riots on navy vessels at sea, and of
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course among soldiers in china. and the navy saw a need to appeal to black recruits, '73 was the end of the draft. you can't draft people. you've got to get them to volunteer. and so part of the campaign to reform the image of the racist navy took place in the form of memorial concessions, one of these was a naming of enlisted menace barracks at the great lakes base where he had spoken in '43. and the other was the destroyer escort uss miller launched in 1973. a destroyer escort is not a particularly grand vessel and there was also a destroyer called the miller, named for james miller, a civil war hero. when they gave doris' name to the ship that the original miller became the james miller and this one was just the miller. so he still didn't know necessarily if you heard that, that it was doris' badge of honor. oftentimes when these sorts of things happened it was presented
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as if the story was now over. we've remembered him now. look how far we've come. bill clinton did a similar thing in '97 when black soldiers were given medals of honor, six of them posthumously. history's been made whole, the navy characteristic refused a similar investigation into the refusal to give medals to black sailors, medals of honor during the war. the memorial at waco, however, preserves doris' memory, but it should be noted that's not a navy memorial. that was done by local people. it was crowd funded, sort of. they even wrote to cuba gooding jr. asking for money. i don't know if he gave them any. he should have done. memorials are important because they give us space to interpret. just like the museum. it doesn't dictate. it directs. but we have the right to interpret our own way, and if you haven't seen it yet go see
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the infamy exhibit. doris is very prominent and it may be very happy. there is also, of course, the ford class supercarrier named for him which will go to sea in the 2030s. this was requested by then acting secretary of the navy thomas modley who wanted a black enlisted man and wanted someone from world war ii, he said, because it was a time when the country was really united. i think john's comments earlier suggested that's not necessarily 100% the case. but the vessel will ensure that doris' memory is preserved, as will exhibits such as the one here at the museum. he's been the subject of children's books. he's been in movies. he's been toys. he's been named -- buildings have been named for him and museum exhibits continue to preserve his memory. but there is still no medal of honor. as long as that's the case -- here they are. cut of steel for the miller in
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2021, and doris again, 80 years on, as long as there's no medal of honor, there will be a campaign. and i sometimes wonder just what this humble and modest man would think of all this, were he 102 and alive today. thank you very much for your time. i appreciated it. [ applause ] >> i'm going to stay seated for the questions. so i have some questions for individual panelists and then maybe a question overall and then we'll open it up to q&a. but one of the things that i liked, that both panelists brought up, is this idea that the home front is sort of never just the home front. there's an element of what's going on domestically that can influence policy and strategy. so the first question i have is for you, john, you had mentioned something really interesting which is japan's attempts to create a propaganda campaign using the treatment of african
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americans in the united states. so i was wondering if you could tell us in the audience a little bit more about that, and how successful was it? or not. so i just thought that was something really interesting. >> okay, thanks, steph. very good question. it's a book by a fellow named gerald horn. it's entitled "race war." and it is exactly about this subject, the japanese attempts to appeal not just african americans, but to in particular, remember they're facing the british empire around the globe. they're facing it in particular in asia. but to point out that these people are being treated abysmally by these imperialists and as well to african americans, that they're being treated abysmally by their white counterparts and that the
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japanese are the perfect government to set this right, to stop this freedom. in a sense you'll remember in world war ii japanese were suggesting to asians as they had been ever since they beat first the chinese in 1894 and then the russians in 1904-5, that they were the country that could lead this sort of freedom movement. as we well know, for those of us who follow the history of the second world war, the japanese, after making certain they had slapped and humiliated the british, went around asia and southeast asia slapping and humiliating everyone in their path. and they had no intention of freeing them. they had the intention of
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subjugating and using them in the japanese international war effort and campaigns. some african american intellectuals were drawn to these appeals, especially after 1919. and it's interesting because if you follow the path of the military intelligence division, you find that with the defeat of germany in 1919, and they were keeping a very close eye on harlem in new york city, that's the bell weather. suddenly with the defeat of germany, they shift entirely and they begin to focus on japan. and if you're following the documents, as i was for an earlier book, i thought, whoa, boy, talk about a shift in gears. germany's gone. and japan is now the problem. and so they're checking and monitoring any japanese, japanese americans in harlem,
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what are they up to? how are black people responding to them? well, there is some response. the nation of islam was, in part, drawn to them, to the extent that there was an interesting combination, something i've never quite understood. but about the afro japanese man. and i've never understood it because, as you know, hitler made the japanese honorary aryans which was a real stretch. so if you're going to stretch it even further why not the afro japanese man? which doesn't quite fit. but some intellectuals who were very, very disaffected in the country, and you also find that a number of people in harlem who had come from jamaica originally
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and therefore brought the issues of the british empire into the the united states were also drawn to the appeals of the japanese. i don't think this is very widespread, but horn does -- horn's book does a very good and detailed treatise of what actually happened. and you realize, this wasn't just something that was imagined. in point of fact, the japanese invited a number of prominent african american intellectuals to visit japan and treated them royally to emphasize the distinction between how they were treated in the united states and how the japanese were treating them when they came to tokyo. so this is something that went on throughout the inter-war period. and i think as i've suggested, and we'll take up some of these other aspects tomorrow, you find that there's a lot going on,
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starting with world war i, and it flows into world war ii, and afterwards, and we need to know that background. but that's all i would have to say right now about that attempt. but it is there. it exists. it is not a figment of anyone's imagination. >> i'm just going to chime in here, if i may. there was a film made in 1943 by john ford called december 7th, and it features not doris miller directly, but footage of a black serviceman firing a machine gun up at the japanese. they recycled that footage in '44 in the propaganda film the neg row soldier, and that figure the african american firing at the pearl harbor attack appears just after the quotation there are those who will tell you that japan is the savior of the colored races. so as late as '44 they still felt the need to include that kind of thing, to waylay any sentiments in that direction.
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>> very good. >> great, thank you. actually, this question that i have flows pretty well into that. because you mentioned the movies that were made, not, you know, during the war, or not long after, and you gave us a lot of background information in how doory is used, misused, you mentioned the cold war which is really great giving context there. i want to know a little bit more about how dory was used perhaps by civil rights groups activists during the war or sort of immediately after. so what different ways, how was he kind of strategized or used by these equal rights groups? >> yeah, i mean the instant response was the navy announced that it was an unnamed negro messman has done something impressive at pearl harbor so the instant response from the pittsburgh courier and other groups what's his name? it wasn't until march. and once that was out, the medal
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of honor campaign began. it was presented always as a way to emphasize and to create unity, right, they wanted to show that the nation was unified in its battle against the axis powers and doris was the perfect symbol of that and they wanted doris' efforts to be recognize not just by a medal or a tour but by substantive change, let him, and others like him, show their full worth to the nation. segregation is pretty antithetical to democracy and also inhibits the war effort. you're wasting people, essentially, who could be contributing more. so that was the main effort of groups like the march on washington movement and national negro congress and the naacp. we did it before. that was another thing. there was a lot of references back to history. all of the house of perry, in the war of 1812, other black figures who served before the
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navy had adopted this rigidly segregated policy and they used frank knox, used his words against him. we did not impair battle efficiency. any impairment of battle efficiency that would have resulted from black sailors being given the chance to serve would have resulted from the white folks who would have objected so vigorously to it. it wouldn't have been the black people who were the problem, as it were, it would have been those sailors who didn't want to serve alongside black men who would have impaired battle efficiency. but it was very much let us fight. very much a closed ranks kind of thing, like w.dubois said in '19. let us prove our worth. let us do this. >> great, thank you. >> family into this? >> yeah, yeah. >> a lot of my family, both sides, my mother's and my father's side, fought in world war ii.
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we had one point monoford marine and we have a photo of him in full gear and that shows, the caption under it from him is going from iwojima to question mark. most of the family who served, served in the u.s. army. because that's where you did have a chance to fight and served well. not a single one joined the navy, regardless of dory miller or anyone else. there have been articles written about both sides of my family that happens to be a relatively well-known black family. but nobody had any intention of being a servant. they wanted to be a part of the war effort and fight. >> great, thank you. so i will just ask a question for both of you.
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before we open it up for q&a. there was both of you had mentioned some things that i would argue, and rob you would use the phrase as period of forgetting, or this misremembering, or willfully not remembering certain aspects of world war ii history. we have that, and the use and misuse of dory miller. john, you had mentioned that this period right after pearl harbor was perhaps not as unified as we tend to believe it to be. it's a great narrative, but it's not entirely true. so you are at the world war ii museum, the national world war ii museum. lots of discussion about memorials, how important they are. so how do we, as historians, as members of the audience, make sure that some of these stories are not forgotten, or not misremembered. it's a big question, solve the problem right now. but just a little -- what can we do? >> young guy, you want to go first? >> yes, i do.
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i think it's important to give people the chance to interact with the history. krooun, you go in the infamy exhibit and it's the mess man, the machine gun and the medal but that's more than it used to be and more than you would have probably got through much of post-war history. when you introduce people, no good dictating to people what you've got to think, right, in a public forum. you invite them, i think, to engage with the history. the smithsonian found out in '95 when they tried to exhibit enola gay, that doesn't go over particularly well. when you're doing public history you have to ask people, here's this, if you want to learn more, learn more, but mention doris miller. include things that are less remembered. another figure from pearl harbor from the other end of the navy hierarchy that i've spent some time studying is admiral husband e. kim mel. he's mentioned. he got the blame for pearl harbor and was stripped of his rank and became this rather
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unfortunate conspiracy theoryist, and a magnet for anti-semitic rantings after the war. take a trip to the -- for reasons i do not know, this man from connecticut, his papers are all in wyoming. i do know why. i'm not going to go into it. but we have to understand that history is divisive and it's all very well to tell a movie story with cuba gooding jr., and husband kimmel is in that story too. in hollywood's pearl harbor, there were no racists. it was 1941. no racial prejudice at all. that doesn't do. and that's what i've tried to do with my work on doris miller is complicate it. but there are venues, horses for courses, you know, so i think introducing these forgotten figures is very important and then you invite people, if they want to know more, they'll find out more.
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john? >> i've spent a very long time with the national world war ii museum here in new orleans. i've been affiliated with it, i guess, probably over a dozen years now. i'm so old i can't remember when i started. and one of the things that drew me to it, because i've consulted with the smithsonian, in fact, i was affiliated with the smithsonian when they botched that exhibit in 1995 and had been one of the historians who said to them, you are screwing this thing up badly. you need to discuss air power before world war ii, order you're going to look like fools and they did. life is tough that way. you've got to have a handle on what people are thinking. outside, not just what's going on in the museum. i've also kltd with the national museum of african american history and culture, and world
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war i exhibit, which is probably my primary focus. and one of the things that you have to deal with often is some very touchy subjects. i have positively enjoyed my time consulting here because -- and nick mueller and the staff who we have people who are historians, and understand what we're about, and so a number of years ago i was co-chair of a committee that created the traveling exhibit fighting for the right to fight. and it's been around the country. it was here for a time. and it's coming back, and i think the museum has plans in the future to update it. and that's one of the reasons i stick with the museum because the museum is not content with
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stasis. history moves. history changes, we know more, we learn more. and the key is to transmit this to the american public, those who are willing to listen. and think. and understand america's past. we are constantly wrestling with our past. we will always be wrestling with our past, and in point of fact, this will come up a couple of more times in this symposium. as it should. history's not an easy subject. people sometimes are deluded into thinking, history's straightforward. you just write it. it's facts. oh, no, no, no, no. if we're only that simple. it isn't. and those of us who are historians understand that, and respect it, and we try to stick to the documentation, which changes, as we get more
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information, and so i would just suggest that we will continue to change, the museum will continue to change. the museum has spent time raising very critical questions, and as we do the next part of the symposium tomorrow on african americans and race relations of civil rights, and then in the final round table discussion, we're going to be discussing history and how things have changed. that's what makes it exciting. cut and dry. people often want to deny it. if it doesn't suit their purposes, unfortunately you can deny history all you want. the only thing i say to people who want to deny it is, you keep on denying it, it will come back and bite you in the butt. okay, you can't get away from it. that's all there is to it. thank you, steph, for being a
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marvelous chair. >> open it up to q&a. >> thank you to our panelists, first question to your right with duke here, please stand. >> speaking from the perspective of a volunteer, and a -- of this beloved world war ii museum, i've learned that people that come here, visitors that come here don't just come here to hear the stories, and to see the stories. they really come to tell their stories. i thought when i started volunteering i'd get to tell stories that i'd learned from studying about the war but people really want to tell their stories. and they're people from all broad groups of life. they're very -- they're african americans, they're japanese, they're germans, they're people from europe. a lot of australians. and they all tell their stories. and the stories they tell are about their pride, the pride of
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what their grandfathers did, the pride of what their family has contributed to make the second world war still a livable story. so i think from the perspective of what you asked, what can we do here at this wonderful museum that we're all so proud of, is to allow people to continue to tell their stories, and have the opportunity to tell their stories as they come through. so i don't have a question. >> thank you, excellent, excellent. >> we'll go to your left with connie, please. >> hi. my question relates to how the death of dory miller was treated in 1943 by the press, by the military. >> it's a good question. the black press was obviously very much grieved to hear the
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news. the story that tuchs me the most was how the miller family learned of doris' death, and they wrote anxiously because he wasn't confirmed dead until a year and a day, right, if you're missing it takes that long to be confirmed dead. the black press speculated, you know, where is he? is he missing? you know, is he gone? there were all sorts of rumors he'd been seen in a field hospital in the pacific and these regional millers and they wrote to the navy, and it was a pretty tragic exchange when they were told that doris was dead. the military didn't make an awful lot of fuss out of it. it was mostly the black press that paid attention and reported what they could. and it was obviously seen as a great loss to the community. they didn't feel that they had had their fair share of doris as it were, his speaking tour was very brief, and they kept
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asking, can we extend it? can he speak at the naacp conference and the navy eventually was like, no, by january '43 he was back in general service. so it wasn't a huge deal made of it, certainly not by the navy, who would still prefer to keep that relatively quiet. it was in the black press that he was mourned and missed, yeah. i don't know if that answers your question. >> we'll go to the center of the aisle here. >> where is the effort to get doris miller, the navy cross, elevated to a medal of honor and the fact that we have an african american vice president and an african american secretary of defense, both firsts, will you -- will they be enlisted to try to get that elevated? and get them -- get the recognition he deserves. >> i would expect so. i mentioned briefly, i was --
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attended a meeting of the congressional black caucus, ever since covid i have no idea how long everything was, it was before covid, but they were very determined, various politicians involved. it's difficult because this has been advanced so many times. right, they wrote to lbj, and people wrote to bill clinton, and on and on and on. and the navy kept saying no. and they've sort of said, well, you know, he got his just desserts at the beginning, and they were like -- when they first heard about it, hundreds of cases were like this. we'll send him a letter. and people were like, a letter, that's not enough. you can't just send him -- they got him the navy cross but the medal of honor carried certain connotations. you all know this better than me. is there not a requirement that congress stands in the presence of a medal of honor winner, i may be wrong. there were certain reluctances.
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and the navy said no so many times, they were painted into a corner. if you say yes, you have to acknowledge those noes were illegitimate noes, so you name a supercarrier after him and hope that's enough. the campaign will go on. it's been passed down one after the other and it won't go away, nor should it. at the same time, there's a danger in overfixating on the medal of honor. doris is remembered elsewhere. the waco memorial is a big thing, and the medal of honor can become almost a singular obsession. he should have one. i think he should have one. nobody cares what i think. but the campaign will carry on. it's very much based out of texas, and then in washington you have a lot of people pressing for their constituents who think that doris should get this medal of honor. i don't think he'll get one. but then, i've been wrong many times before.
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>> along those lines, i think, to put dory miller in broader context, you have to remember that it wasn't until bill clinton's administration, and the materials were actually sent to johnson c. smith, which is a black university, to be vetted, and then they were sent to a committee of historians, and this is for the army's seven african american soldiers who would be awarded the medal of honor, who had received anywhere from distinguished service crosses to silver star in order to elevate these men to the medals of honor they deserved.
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and in many instances, the reason that they were awarded the medal was because their white superior officers, the captains and majors who had fought with them, refused to give up the effort. repeatedly being denied, denied, denied. and they were relentless about it. because they knew these men deserved the medal of honor. so that's critical. but it took until then. one of the things that will come up tomorrow is that there has never been the review of the first world war. and the decorations board was known to be racist in both world wars. if you look at the history of the military, before, hey, medals of honor. not in world war i and world war ii. wasn't going to happen. african americans knew it wasn't going to happen.
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b.o. davis, commander of the tuskegee airmen refused to put anybody up for it because he knew they would be rejected out of hand, no matter what they did. and so the army actually stands out for its willingness to review the matter and had not taken such adamant stance to the navy. but i would note that there are only two african american medal of honor winners from the first world war, one of whom i will mention tomorrow, and their awards were given the most recent one, in 2015. nearly 100 years after they earned them in combat, and they and a number of other african american soldiers were recommended for the medal of honor by their white superior officers coming out of world war i. no one did anything about it.
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>> and the navy, i believe, refused -- when the army did sort of a retrospective investigation of medal of honor potentials, which resulted in those seven awards that john mentions from '97, the navy said we're not doing that, so they didn't. >> next question is to your left. about halfway back. >> dr. chester, i have a two-part question. first of all, excellent job. >> oh, thank you, sir. >> we all know the general story of dory miller manning the machine gun and diving in the water but i'm wondering if you can fill us in on the specifics if you know it of what exactly he experienced that day and you made reference to the fact that his mother and family were very upset afterwards. can you tell us the details of why, what happened? >> okay. like any sort of history that takes place in a big mess of fire and fury. we're not 100% sure. there's various accounts of doris' day.
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doris' day. okay. he was, as i understand it, below decks and a white officer sized him up. he was a big fellow, 200 pounds, six feet tall, and he thought doris would be useful. he says come up with me. and the captain of the west virginia, who got a medal of honor interestingly enough for his actions at pearl harbor, was reportedly wounded and doris was, i think, involved or other sailors were building a stretcher, they were trying to get mervin out of the way. in the drawing that i showed, he's in the background and doris is protecting him with his machine gun. while that was happening doris notices that there's a machine gun unmanned, and so he gets on it and presses the button and he
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reported it sort of firing away fairly easily. you know, it wasn't that complicated a machine. how many planes he shot down, we do not know. i've seen as many as 16 offered. a little, perhaps, excessive. you know, i think i said this before when i spoke on zoom with rob and jeremy, you know, there's some idea that the more planes the better. doesn't matter. doesn't matter. he may have shot one. he said, you know, i might have got one. might have got none. doesn't matter. eventually fires on the deck made it impossible for him to carry on firing the machine gun then he abandoned ship and he helped others. his heroism was multifaceted. and after that, i don't know. there's not much said by the man himself. he was a quiet person.
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he was modest. he didn't get much chance to say or have much desire, i think, to say very much. so that's what we know about pearl harbor on the day and it's a mangled account, produced from various different sources, the navy's official sources and historians and such. as far as his mother was concerned, they were very poor. they were texan sharecroppers. i don't know for sure, but the documentation i've seen connor yn miller marked his signature with an "x." they were poor sharecroppers and they had the opportunity through the poster i showed, they collaborated that made some money, moved house. but mrs. miller always felt she hadn't had her fair due. a fire at the home in 1956, i think, and the medals were lost that he had won. she felt -- she told a story that she said a film maker visited her, she didn't know when, this is in doris's niece's
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work, and they wanted to make a feature film. but they wanted him to be played by a white actor. now, that's not impossible because in 1961 tony curtis played the pima indian hero ira hayes. it's not that unrealistic but she was like, no, i'm not doing that and she felt they had been taken advantage of and she appealed for aid and assistance in rebuilding her home. the federal government said no and she was like, well, she spoke to jet magazine in the '70s, they should be helping someone whose son died for his country. she felt she had been left to languish in relative poverty, and people exploited her. she said we've been exploited by blacks and whites in the name of doris. his father died in 1949. so there wasn't much time for him to leave much of an opinion on the matter. thank you for the question. >> to your far left, towards the
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front, please. >> thank you very much. just a comment on a question. so i'm kind of struck by the similarity between dory miller and jesse brown. i don't know if you're familiar with jesse brown. he was the first naval aviator, he was shot down near a reservoir in december of 1950 in a white wingman thomas hudner landed to save him. they couldn't save brown. hudner got the medal of honor for his actions. my understanding is they eventually named a ship after brown. i think about the same time they did it for miller. >> in the '70s. >> correct. but you showed a picture of nemits giving miller his medal. any thoughts about any efforts that nemits did in his command at sink pack to change african american experience? and that's a big deal that you've got a head of sink pack
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giving a medal to anybody. he didn't have to do that, i would imagine. any thoughts on nemits' role? >> do you know anything about that, john? >> i don't know about that. i know about brown. >> i don't know an awful lot about what nemits did or didn't do. there were changes made in the war in terms of what african americans were allowed to do. but i can't tell you what chester nemits' role was. i apologize. i know about kimmel, but not much about nemits. >> by the end of the war they have commissioned a ship officered by white officers but entirely crewed by black seamen to operate in the atlantic escort, and you do find that they're training african americans as gunners. one of the most interesting photos i've run across is a photograph of two men, manning a
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gun, on a marine landing craft in the pacific and they're sitting up there shirtless in shorts behind the gun, and one is black. and the other's white. and the response to the journal when it came out was what is this? what are these two guys? because they said so and so, and so and so, i think the wife was from arkansas, the black fellow was from somewhere else in the south, and they pointed out that they were also best friends. and they couldn't figure out what to do. this is 1944. and the point was that the african american marine was a messman, on the ship. but he was the gunner in combat, and the white fellow was the
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loader. and they worked very well together. i think what -- of course if you know about the point monford marines they're doing supply in combat. they're not out of combat. they're taking fellows out. they're supplying the front lines. what gradually happens in world war ii despite the racism is that if you put, for example, african american messmen on a submarine, and they were on submarines, i've seen a marvelous article by one of the white submariners saying these guys responded to be depth charged the same way we did and they did their jobs throughout. segregation just doesn't make any damn sense. and i think you see this, which is one of the reasons why the civil rights movement, the naacp was always integrated, but why more and more white people did join because they realize in
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their experiences and we'll talk some about fifth platoons and the tank destroyer and tank battalions that fought in europe. they realized that they fought well together, once you put them together. but there was always going to be that issue behind the lines. and how to deal with it. >> i'd also add as far as nemits goes the citation and navy cross, fdr and the attorney general, were both involved in securing that. so i don't know how much agency nemits would have had to say no to the commander in chief. i don't know that, but it came from fdr. >> well, as steph said at the beginning, this is an important session for us to include in the symposium and i think with one of our longest serving advisers at now 16 -- well, 15 1/2 years, john. >> oh, god. >> and robert, who we met, i believe, a year and one week ago this weekend when we saw him referenced in the "new york
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times" article on many of these same subjects. you've got the new and the not as new. but still young. still young. >> old, old, just give it -- >> robert touches on a lot of things that we wanted to bring to your attention. many of you are loyal followers. we've had our memory wars conference planned for some time, and we are still planning it, and we are still hosting it. it will be all virtual march 24, 25, 26, like the march of this year conference, it will be all online, and all free. so memory wars world war ii at '75 will touch on many of the issues that robert touched on, but also looking globally. so i'd like to thank robert, john, and, of course, dr. steph -- for a wonderful panel. please join me with a round of applause. [ applause ]


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