It’s reported that less than half of the 2.5-million African American soldiers who registered for the armed forces at the beginning of World War II were called to serve. Those who were enlisted found that as they served their country abroad, they still faced less than a democratic reception at home.
The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most widely circulated African-American newspapers of its time, received a humble, patriotic, but assertive letter to the editor in 1942. It was penned by 26 year-old African American James G. Thompson of Wichita.
Thompson wrote that the African-Americans willing to serve the U.S. in battle against foreign enemies were still being treated as second-class citizens at home. He proposed an expansion of the prolific ‘V for Victory’ sign – a push for social reform during the era of Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws:
“The ‘V for Victory’ sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries which are fighting for victory over aggression, slavery and tyranny. If this V sign means that to those now engaged in this great conflict then let colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double victory: The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies within. For surely those who perpetrate these ugly prejudices here are seeing (sic) to destroy our democratic form of government just as surely as the Axis forces.”
Today, 98-year-old John Monk of Wichita still vividly recalls his experiences during the war. Monk began his 20-year service to the United States Armed Forces less than a year after the U.S. entered WWII. He reports that when he returned to the South during leave after that war wearing the stripes he’d earned in the military, he was met with aggression.
“They’d say, ‘Hey, boy! What are you doing with those stripes on?’ I’d say, ‘I earned them. I’m in the army,’” Thompson says. “I had been in the army for four years at that time. He say, 'Ain’t no (N-word) soldiers in the army. You gonna to get in big trouble, boy. You gotta get them stripes off! I’m going to have the police put you in jail,’ and all that kind of stuff. But, my mother always wanted me to wear that uniform and that’s what I got when I wore it.”
The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita has included a couple of pieces related to the Double V campaign in its permanent exhibit. In 1946, a group of “Double ‘V’ Victorettes” erected Wichita’s small WWII memorial site in McAdams Park to honor the black soldiers who served.