WWII and The March to Equality
The last episode of Ken Burns’ The War aired last night on PBS.
One of the most disturbing subplots involved the U.S.’s fight against Hitler’s notion of racial superiority during WW II even as the Jim Crow status quo at home was heartily maintained. Hispanic, African-American, Japanese-American and Native American soldiers willingly fought for freedom without any promise that they would be seen as equal upon their return to their own country.
As soldier John Gray said, “It would be a matter of disgust and distaste with you when you found out that the fruits of victory were not yours.”
I was surprised that in response to FDR’s death right before the end of the war, Japanese-American soldiers made a point of fighting even harder in honor of this man who signed the order to put their families in American concentration camps.
All of this reminded me of a funeral I attended not long ago for one of our church members, Bill McKinney who happened to be an African-American WWII vet. His sacrifices during the war were honorable. He also was one of the friendliest, well-loved men I’ve ever met; the kind of person who smiled and shook your hand at church as if you were exactly who he came to see that day. Whether he knew you well or not didn’t matter much.
During the eulogy, Rev. Mike noted that Bill enrolled as a student at IU upon returning from WWII. Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in the area of civil rights at the time he organized student groups to create change. I remember feeling immediately jealous of someone who could be that kind of activist while staying so amazingly friendly and positive. Ever since then I’ve adopted Bill as personal role model, though the standard he set seems very high to me.
As I’ve been reflecting on the Little Rock 9 I’ve started to wonder what role WWII played in the fight for equality.