Booknotes+ Podcast: Matthew Delmont, “Half American”

By | December 13, 2022

The title of Dartmouth history professor Matthew Delmont’s latest book is “Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad.” Prof. Delmont, our guest this week, writes in his introduction that: “Nearly everything about the war – the start and end dates, geography, vital military roles, home front, and international implications – looks different form the African American perspective.” He points out that ultimately, over one million Black men and women served in World War II.

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The title of Dartmouth history professor Matthew delmont's latest book is half American subtitle the Epic story of African Americans fighting World War II At home and abroad Professor Delmont writes in his Introduction that quote nearly Everything about the war the start and The end dates geography vital military Roles home front and international Implications looks different when viewed From the African-American perspective Unquote Professor Belmont points out Ultimately over one million black men And women served in World War II Professor Matthew Delmont In a couple of years if the schedule is Kept there will be a huge nuclear Aircraft carrier called the Doris Miller What is the symbolism of that Incredibly significant Doris Miller was A mess attendant on the USS West Virginia who performed heroically during The Battle of Pearl Harbor like other Black Americans he was only allowed to Serve in the Navy as a mess attendant Where his role was to to serve and to Feed white officers so he's not in a Combat role but once the bombing of Pearl Harbor began he did everything he Was asked to do by his commanders he Made a makeshift stretcher to help move Wounded soldiers wounded Sailors on the USS West Virginia then he came above

Above board on decks and manned one of The anti-aircraft guns on the the deck Of the West Virginia and started Shooting at Japanese planes potentially Hitting one of them then once he got Into the water he helped crewmates swim To shore helping to save a number of a Number of his his fellow Sailors on the USS West Virginia it was important at The time because the Navy had really Disparaged the service of black Americans during the lead of to World War II and so his performance at the Battle Pearl Harbor was extraordinary it Received huge amounts of attention both Within the black press and the The Wider Mainstream press as well what do you Think led to the Navy deciding to I mean He did have another ship named after him But it's been out of commission for Years but what do you think led to Aircraft carriers are normally named After presidents I mean I would hope on the Navy's part It's a recognition that there are Aspects of the history of the Navy that Need to be brought to the foreground That part of the importance of a branch Like the Navy is that it requires the Service and contributions of of everyone Regardless of rank and I think Doris Miller is a great example of that he's Someone who did everything he was called On to do in

Um in the heat of battle and I think It's also recognition that The Navy and other branches of the Military have aspects of their history That involve explicit racial segregation And racial discrimination and so Honoring Doris Miller in that way helps To reckon honestly with that history and Hopefully helps to to chart Um a better future course for the Military as uh as the armed forces has Done for the last several decades a Service is part of the Navy the Marines Had a relationship with the African-American that I want you to Explain I'm sorry could you repeat that question Yeah basically what was the Marines Attitude toward the African-American Black soldier back in the days of World War II So while the entire military was Segregated during World War II the Marine Corps was even worse than the Army or navy at the start of the war They didn't allow any black Americans to Serve which is a real affront to the Citizenship and patriotism of black Americans it was only after uh protests In that first year of World War II that Finally the Marine Corps relented and Established a training base for Black Marines at Montford point in North Carolina that first cohort of Black

Marines became called the Montford Point Marines and they distinguished Themselves in battles and particularly In the Pacific in the battles of sapan And Iwo Jima and what they is important About the story of the Marines in the Context of World War II is they went From being the worst of the armed Service branches in terms of their Treatment of black Americans to by the End being more on the foreground because They recognized once these Black Marines From montrepoint got into battle they Performed tremendously well and so the Commandant of the Marines by 1944 so That these mod for Point Marines were 100 Marines and that was a meaningful Moment because it recognized that these Black men were going to be judged by Their performance not by the color of Their skin what changed the Marine's Mind Performance pure and simple Um at the start of the the war the Comment of the Marines at that time Point said he would have preferred a Marine Corps of 5 000 white Marines Rather than 25 000 Black Marines and so There's nothing anyone could tell him That was going to get them to to Desegregate Once you finally get them out for Point Marines there get them in battle what Changed people's minds is their

Performance in combat that they're there Shoulder to shoulder with with white Marines and they the commanders are able To see that these marines perform uh as Marines and I think more than anything It's that combat performance that Changes the Marine Corps mind I know you Worked on this book for six or seven Years How did your mind change about this Subject as you went along For me the research changed my mind in a Couple ways one I don't think I fully Appreciated how vast the contributions Of black Americans were to the war Effort that more than a million black Americans served in the military during World War II a million more serving Defense Industries at home Um of course like everyone else is Familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen Familiar with Doris Miller but the Stories that really inspired me were the Stories of the troops who were in The Logistical roles and the supply roles People like the truck drivers on the red Ball Express who move supplies across Europe after D-Day uh people who did the Kind of unsung labor building roads Clearing jungles loading unloading ships Part of the argument I make in the book Is that World War II wasn't just a Battle of strategy and will it was a Battle of supply and that if we

Understand it from that perspective it's Really clear that black Americans played A vital role in helping to win the war And so that was a an argument I didn't Know I was going to be making when I Started the research and so that was a Certainly influential for me the second Piece was understanding that for black Americans award didn't really end in 1945 that yes there was a military Victory that was achieved but black Americans understood themselves to be Fighting what they called a double Victory campaign trying to get victory Over fascism abroad but also a victory Over racism at home the military Victories were complete in 1945 but that Campaigned against segregation against Discrimination against racism at home it Continued after 1945 and so that whole Generation of black veterans they went From fighting in Europe in the in the Pacific and they came back to the United States and they kept fighting they kept Fighting for actual freedom and Democracy here in the United States I Knew that story and its broad Contours But actually getting back into these Primary sources digging into what life Was like those black veterans when they Returned in 1945 it was inspiring to see How they they fought for their country Abroad but then also fought for America At home they fought to make America a

Better place For 35 years And I'm old enough to remember him there Was a United States Senator by the name Of James Eastland From Mississippi who was quite high in The hierarchy near the end of his time In the Senate and you at the end in the Homecoming chapter quote him and I'm Just going to read some of this and then I'm going to play some of the Some of the the sound we have of him in An interview with Mike Wallace uh in Just a second anyway he says the Negro Race is an inferior race I say frankly that I'm proud of the White race I'm proud that the purest Form of white blood flows in my veins I Know that the white race is the superior Race it has ruled the world it has given A civilization it is responsible for all The progress on earth when you found That quote what was your reaction It's upsetting I mean I'm a historian I Work on the history of race and racism In the United States but when you go Back and read Quotes like that it's deeply deeper Upsetting particularly when you know That it's someone in a position of power This isn't someone crank writing from a Shack in the wood somewhere he's saying Those words on the floor of the Senate This is a person who is among the most

Powerful politicians in the entire United States because he has seniorities On a number of the key committees It's also disturbing because he's Directly attacking black veterans in the Summer of 1945 as the country is Celebrating Victory in in World War II and so for me It was it wasn't is even hearing the Words again this morning it's deeply Upsetting to Um to hear that explicit form of racism Expressed in that way I remember he was first in the senate For the long term in 1943 and here is His interview in the 60s with Mike Wallace uh and we got three Cuts we'll Just run the first cut and get your Reaction to what he says Now this doctrine of Except of the separation of the races Has been evolved over many years by both Races it's not something that one race Has imposed upon another race It's not a badge of inferiority Or superiority it's found Throughout the years that you have more Harmony and if the races can Make more progress Under a system Of separate Senator James Easton your reaction I think what's so troubling and Disturbing about that is

Um it's it's factually incorrect Um it elides the reality of what Segregation looked like in the United States that if you look at the context Of World War II separate was in no way Equal black troops were assigned to the Lowest dirtiest jobs within the armed Services when they had these separate Barracks separate latrines all those Facilities were were second class uh They were forced to ride in the back of Buses back of train cars Um the Red Cross even segregated blood Donors because they thought there was Some sort of difference between black And white blood even though there's no Scientific basis to do that the entire System of segregation was built to Disparage black Americans to To funnel resources away from black Communities and towards White Communities and so it's frustrating to Hear that as a historian because I know That it's it's incorrect I think it's Important though and I appreciate you Playing it because it's a it's a Powerful reminder that When we talk about Racism and segregation United States It's sometimes easy to think about those Things in the abstract but when you Think about someone like James o Eastland and How Deeply he believed in This notion of of white superiority and

How he was able to help Implement Policies that that shaped our country And helped and shape the the country That black veterans came back to I think It's important that we we confront those Primary sources and those Voices From The Past head on because without that It's really difficult to understand why Segregation racism remain in the United States after the end of World War II Professor Dumont here's the second clip If a negro maid or nurse Is good enough to care for a white Infant in the South live without infant Feed that infant and so forth why is not That same negro made allowed to eat in The same restaurant with Southern whites I want to know the reason behind it's a Matter of choice choice by the white no It's a matter of Choice by both races Are you suggesting they have just told You that day that a reconstruction Legislature composed principally of Neighbors Enacted our segregation statutes are you Suggesting that's I'm suggesting that The vast majority of the Negroes want Their own schools Their own hospitals Their own churches their own restaurants What do you think I still think it's uh it's historically Wrong-headed and inaccurate um I think It also conflates a couple different

Things and it's one thing to say people Might prefer to To frequent certain restaurants or hang Out with certain people socially which Is one thing it's an entirely different Thing to say that segregation wasn't Fundamentally about power and resources I think that's where the conflation goes Um it The the thing again about the context of World War II The issue with segregation racism was That when black veterans came back they Couldn't get mortgages to live in Certain neighborhoods they couldn't get The kind of college tuition benefits That white veterans got from the GI bill They couldn't get job training benefits In the same way those are about Resources and power and I think that's Where Eastland offering those those Quotes in the the 60s is easy for him to Point to to restaurants and social Aspects Um much harder to talk about the the Vast racial wealth Gap that opened up on As a result of policies that mandated Segregation at the same time that James Eason was in the Senate there was a man Named Richard Russell who was also in The Senate from Georgia What do you think of the fact that There is a building what the the oldest Of the Senate Office Buildings is still

Named the Richard Russell building and He was a white separatist It's one of the many aspects of our Country's history that we really have to Reckon honestly with I think we look Back you can find people in history who Are on we might call the right side of History who who truly believed in Freedom and democracy and inequality of Of all Americans and then you can find Numerous examples of people who are not Who fought actively who dedicated their Lives to try to maintain segregation Maintain racial hierarchies and racial Inequality We shouldn't have buildings or monuments To those individuals in my opinion Because I think they were not uh they Were not working towards the best vision Of America they're working towards a Vision of America in which only a very Small and select number of people uh Would benefit when you teach history and What is your take on why when we went Through this civil unrest after uh the Death of George Floyd that this nobody In the Senate suggested seriously to Change the name That's a great question Um You know honestly it might be that There's so many different monuments and Buildings that need to get looked at That they the tendency is often to focus

On the much further back period the History of slavery people who own slaves Or fought with the Confederacy but we Can look much more recently uh at people Who upheld the system of Jim Crow Apartheid segregation United States uh Particularly in in political positions And Um And it's really hard to make a case why We want to name any federal buildings After someone who supported segregation In that way one last clip from Senator Eastland How is it that only four percent four Percent of the qualified Negroes are Registered to vote in your own state of Mississippi approximately 20 000 Negroes Out of a half a million of eligible AIDS Well now those statements are incorrect We have over 20 000 neighbors who vote In the Democratic Primary in the state Of Mississippi But we have many more than that many Thousands more than that who are Registered Now oh no wait a minute now they do not Vote because they have a long history of To be a republicanism they are members Of the Republican party and of course They cannot vote in the Democratic Primary which is the election in our State the Republican party doesn't even Run candidates as far as your concerned

The state as far as you're concerned Then you would like to see every Eligible negro and Mississippi vote I Would like to see Just what we have Final reaction to Senator Eastland I appreciate the about voting because it Reminds me of a point that's important To make here is that Eastland wasn't Elected democratically in any meaningful Sense of the term if you look at uh 1944-1945 Fewer than two percent of black Mississippians are registered to vote at That time because of Decades of Intentional discrimination and Intimidation when Medgar Evers the Famous Civil Rights activist comes back From fighting in World War II on his 21st birthday he leads a group of black Veterans who try to register to vote in Decatur Mississippi this is 1946. They're turned away by a white mob with Guns He dedicates his life from then on to Fighting for her civil rights so when Eastland is even elected The state of Mississippi is nearly 50 Percent African-American but fewer than two Percent of those black citizens in Mississippi or even registered to vote And so it's a it makes a mockery of the Democratic system to even say that

Eastland was representing Mississippi Because he was only representing the White folks in Mississippi the finer Point he makes about the black people Being in the Republican party it goes Back to that time period where uh The South was solidly Democratic there's Only really one one political party in The South and they were explicitly Segregationist and so it It highlights again the fact that um Black Southerners were largely blocked From having any meaningful voice in Electoral politics for the large part of The 20th century in the US you report in Your book that during World War II 433 Medals of Honor were issued to soldiers None to blacks What did your research show you on that And why During the war There were a number of black Soldiers And Sailors who performed heroically But the reality was That they were just not going to be put Forward for the Medal of Honor Um they got put forward for the Distinguished service cross which is the Second highest award was in the Army but Because of the the racial dynamics of The time they were just not going to be Put forward for the medical Medal of Honor or those who were put forward were Denied thankfully in the 1990s the Army

Uh reviewed a number of cases of uh Soldiers who had been awarded the Distinguished service cross to see if Any were they have been promoted they Ended up upgrading seven of those Distinguished service crosses to Medals Of Honor and what I think we can learn From that is that there were numerous Examples of heroism that happened during World War II but that took nearly five Decades to recognize to highlight just One there's a man named Edward Alan Carter Jr who's among the most Fascinating soldiers to fight in World War II he was a black man grew up with Missionary parents in India and in China He volunteered to fight with the the Chinese Army when he was only 15 years Old against the Japanese saying hi he Goes to fight in the Spanish Civil War Against the fascist forces in Spain He speaks multiple languages but when he Volunteers for the US Army they assign Him to be a cook in a quartermaster unit And so he gets a good example of how Black troops even people who had combat Training who had language skills the Army didn't know how to use their their Manpower didn't know how to use their Skills in qualification Carter he's initially signed as a cook By 1945 the start of 1945 the military Needs more infantry tubes and so they Finally issue a call for volunteers to

See if there are any um Black soldiers who are willing to to Join the Infantry Carter is one of five Thousand who volunteers to to join Infantry ranks he actually has to give Up his rank as a staff sergeant go back Down to a private in order to join the Infantry but he's so eager to get Frontline combat experience he does that He's assigned to an infantry unit that's Linked with um General Patton's 12th Armor Division and as that group is Pushing towards the Rhine He leads a small Detachment To try to subdue Um a German stronghold in a warehouse Who has to go across a field yes that we Had a group of soldiers across the field He receives fire from machine guns from A anti-tank gun he eventually kills six Of these Nazi troops takes the other two Hostage Because he's able to speak German he's Interrogating the two Germans that he's able to to capture and As he's leading them back to to his army Unit he's able to understand and get out Of them information regarding where Other Nazi troops are located near the Near the Ryan the reports that back to His Commander The kind of stuff that Carter did in Combat almost seems like a superhero Movie it's almost beyond belief but it's

It's the reality it's what he what he What he did He's one of distinguished service Crossings one of those seven who's Promoted to a medal of honor later on I Think he's just one example of the Numerous acts of heroism by black troops Who are able to have combat experiences During the war Um and it's it's Um it's a good thing that the Army went Back and reviewed those and was Eventually able to promote seven to Medals of Honor in in the 1990s Your background includes Teaching at Scripps College At in California Arizona State you're Now in Hanover New Hampshire not a Bastion of mixed races up there and how Many blacks on a percentage basis are in The state of New Hampshire you know I don't know off the top of my head I Think it's less than three percent of The State of New Hampshire is African-American I think and total I Think it's 89 90 white Um I think of the of the 10 who are People of color it's only about three Percent black you went to Harvard you Got your PhD at Brown I believe you're a History Professor all through that Process how much Prejudice have you seen And can you remember a time when you saw It

So I went to high school in 1990s in College 1990s and so my professional Life has been since the 2000s Um I think obviously they're Many many differences between the Historical time period I write about in World War II and the present and so Nothing I've experienced in my lifetime In any way resembles the kind of it Explicit extreme violent forms of racism That black Americans encountered during World War II I think what we have today Is equivalent in some ways to what some Of the black officers or professionals Encountered during the context of World War II and what I mean by that is For black folks are able to counter some Level of success and be able to get Their foot in the door they still find Themselves in situations where they Might be the only black person at the Table Um and there are assumptions made about Either their competence or Um How they gained access to these these Spaces Um that are often based more on Stereotypes than based on reality and so I think that's if I was going to speak To an experience and particularly Navigating these ivy league spaces as I Have for a number of years now I think

That's the kind of polite forms of Racism that you encounter today I think Are similar to what some of the black Officers and lawyers and other Professionals encountered in the context Of World War II near the end of your Book you say thank you to my mom Diane Delmont for teaching me the Importance of history and for buying me That Tuskegee Airmen t-shirt when I was A teenager Tell us about your mom why do you Mention her you don't mention your dad And and tell us about that situation and And what impacted that Tuskegee Airmen T-shirt have on you Yeah Nick thanks for asking about that Um so a good relationships about my mom Diane Delmont and my dad Frank Bowman But I was raised by my mom my dad was Around inconsistently Um and so I think all credit goes to her For doing the sort of the day-to-day Work of raising a kid on her own Um The Tuskegee Airman uh t-shirt is Actually kind of an in-joke with my mom A little bit um she bought the t-shirt For me when I was 14. Um and As a kind of knuckleheaded teenager I Didn't appreciate it at the time in the Way that I should have because it wasn't Cool in the way that a teenager is

Looking for a Nike shirt or an Adidas Shirt to be cool Um but I think retrospectively it was The first time I learned about the disc Yemen and I think she that's why she Bought me the T-shirt she wanted to help Teach me about this aspect of History Um and I am grateful to her for that Um and she gave me a hard time later Because I didn't hold on to the T-shirt I gave it away when I was 18. I wish I Would have kept it now I didn't know I Was gonna be a historian so I wish I Would have kept it now Um my dad said it and I didn't reference It in the acknowledgments but um I don't Have anyone in my dad's side who was in Military service but uh my dad and my Uncles and Grandma Um definitely heard stories from them About black veterans who were in their Neighborhoods and first in Chicago and Then in Minneapolis and St Paul who Experienced some of the racism I Described in the book and so I think From both those aspects of my family's History Um getting a sense of Both the importance of history but also That they're always stories that are They're often stories that are left Untold and that don't make it into our Textbooks I'm going to divert for a Moment from the book half American to

Another book that you wrote and I do it For a number of reasons one very Personal you will I know you'll smile When you hear this but 60 years ago I Hosted a daily dance program on Television Uh you wrote a book You wrote a book all about American Bandstand and the relationship to race In Philadelphia if you're my age you Grew up watching American Bandstand at Four o'clock in the afternoon in a small Town in Indiana Why did you get interested in that and Also tell us the technique that you use So that we can now go into a website and See the digitization of a lot of this Material Thank you for uh asking about that that Was my first book on on American Bandstand called the nicest kids in town It grew out of my dissertation Um and also I can credit my mom in some Ways for for that project she grew up in In St Paul Minnesota as a 10 11 12 year Old watching American Bandstand on TV so Something I was aware of uh from from Her stories about it but as a historian When I was in grad school I became Interested in the topic because I was Fascinated by uh trying to get a better Understanding of how the Civil Rights Movement developed in the north and so I Was trying to find a location that would

Give me a chance to talk about Segregation and and civil rights Protests around schools but also around Media and as I looked more into it Philadelphia really became a great place To talk about a number of these stories Coming together And so the story with American Bandstand What I think it's interesting is that It was the first of these dance shows to Become a national television program There were local dance shows all over The country where you had teens dancing On on television but American Bandstand Was the first one to be a national Program it broadcast from a studio in West Philadelphia that is a very Racially mixed neighborhood uh there are A number of italian-americans Jewish Americans and black Americans by 1957 Were living there but when you tune into American Bandstand it was all white Particularly a lot of white ethnic kids Italian American kids from the from the Neighborhood it's a part of what I was Trying to understand is how Or why didn't American Bandstand Resemble the neighborhood that Surrounded the studio and what I Revealed through interviews with the the White kids who danced on the show who Were at that point in their 70s by the Time I interviewed them Um looking at archival documents looking

At newspapers uh particularly black Newspapers like the Philadelphia Tribune Was that the producers had a series of Kind of very underhanded tactics they Would use to maintain segregation on the Show one was forming a members committee Where they would identify a dozen or so Kids who were sort of the key members And then allowed them to invite other Kids in on under the understanding that They would only invite other white kids To be there or they would ask require Other guests to write in weeks or months In advance to request passes and then They would screen the names and Neighborhoods because they knew which Neighborhood was a Irish neighborhood or An Italian neighborhood in which Neighborhood was a black neighborhood And so they would use use that as a way To make sure black kids think in the Studio In the converse you had black kids in The neighborhood 15 16 year olds who Protest it outside of American band sand Studio and so I was able to find Evidence of that that Um particularly right after the Little Rock School integration crisis in the Fall of 1957 their group of black kids Who wanted to protest something vocally That was important to them and what they Chose was American Bandstand because They were upset that one of their

Favorite performers was going to be Performing on the show but they were Blocked on blocked out of the studio and So the larger story I try to tell in That book is how Racial segregation functioned in a place Like Philadelphia that it was never as Explicit as it was in the South they Didn't have black drinking fountains White drinking fountains they didn't Ever say black kids aren't allowed in American Bandstand they just had Policies that somehow seem to always Reproduce racial segregation The connection I make in that book is That what was going on in the public Schools at the time were actually was Actually very similar Um Philadelphia's Public Schools become More racially surrogated over the 1950s And 60s because school officials are Doing something pretty similar to what The producers are doing they're drawing And redrawing Zoning line so that black Kids go to some schools and white kids Go to other schools they never Explicitly say we're going to have a Surrogate school system but as it turns Out by the late 1950s they they produce That outcome by these underhanded Techniques and tactics Um so for me that was an important kind Of entry point to the profession because It gave me a chance to take something

That people know well and try to show Aspects of the history that are that are Hidden and then the last point you Mentioned a lot of my work has been Focused on media history and so For each of the projects I've worked on I've tried to create a companion website So I can try to show some of my evidence To to readers and so for American Bandstand if if listeners were to go to Nicest kids.com they'll be able to find A lot of the information from the book But also a number of these video clips You can actually go back and see what American Bandstand looked like in 1957-58 and see some of the kind of Production decisions they made that Helped to Um produce the idea of it being a National show you do suggest that Dick Clark embellished his role in bringing Black kids to American Bandstand explain That Yeah so one of the fascinating parts for Me is actually when I started the book I Thought it was going to be a story about How American Bandstand was integrated And how that was actually being Progressive relative to what was going On in the public schools in Philadelphia At the time what was going on in terms Of neighborhood segregation and that was Based on memory as a Descartes offered Up in his his own books on American

Bandstand where he said he said you know I'm not a civil rights hero but I did Take the important step of integrating American Bandstand after I took it over I took those at face value initially but Then once I actually got into the Research and was looking at these Archival documents and newspapers and Had a chance to interview people it Turns out that wasn't true at all when You look at all the photographs and all The video clips from American Bandstand While it's in Philadelphia before it Moves to California There's only one picture of any black Kids in the studio and I'm able to point Pinpoint that that was a case when black Kids successfully protested to actually Get themselves into the studio and so it Wasn't something that the producers Actually wanted them in there Kind of tracing the the history of it um What I argue in the book is that Dick Clark didn't start to offer up that that Faulty memory until Soul Train the Popular black dance show became a direct Competitor to American Bandstand and Then by that point you're well into the Civil Rights era he sees this Competition from a black dance program At that point that's the first time Dick Clark ever goes on record and says American Bandstand was integrated and so I think it's a good example of how

Historical memory can be misleading Sometimes that even people who were There like he was Can offer memories that Are not necessarily intentionally lying But they're they're misremembering what Happened because new aspects come uh Come to the foreground a quick timeline I think I saw somewhere that it started In 1952 but the the heavy years 57 to 64. and it was in Philadelphia how long Was it in Philadelphia and where did it Go then and how long did it last until They shut her down So it starts in Philadelphia as a local Program in 1952 Um host initially by a guy named Bob Horn uh Descartes takes it over 1956 it Goes National still from Philadelphia in 1957 and it's National from Philadelphia From 57 until 60 early 64. then it goes To California and becomes much more of a Hollywood production so rather than Having local kids dance on the show you Have aspiring dancers in Hollywood Actors and actresses it's in California From 64 to 89. And that's it's kind of full run as a a Daily program and then it kind of lives On in popular culture after that and You've done five books and I bring this Up because if someone's listening to This and they want to go to your Websites and catch up on all that and

You did a book on making roots You did a book on black quotidian you Did a book on bussing which you say why Bussing failed uh and then the nicest Kids in town of course the one we're Talking about now what's the best way to Get to Matthew delmont's work Where can you find these websites and How do you find them Um so my personal website is Mattdelmont.com and if you were to go There you'd find a bunch of information On this new book on World War II and Then if you would just scroll down You'll find links to all the previous Books Um and then from there if you search in The titles of those books you find both The book itself the book that books Themselves which you can buy from Amazon Or any other realtor real Um retail store or you'll find the these Companion websites which I created for The Bandstand book The busing book The Roots book and then black quotidian is Interesting because it's only a digital Book this was a project with Stanford University press where I was looking Through historical black newspapers and Created a an entirely Digital Book Project that I think will be interesting To a lot of people who might be Interested in digging into these Historical black newspapers

If you were here and we walked over to Union Station right now which is only a Block from where I'm sitting And you walk toward the train gates There's a statue there Of a man named a Phillip Randolph I always ask myself I mean I stop and Look at it and I always ask myself I Wonder how many people noticed a statue It's been there for as long as I've been Around who was he and why does he play a Role in the story that you tell in your Book half American AFL Brandoff was among the most powerful Black Americans during World War II he Was the head of the largest black Union The Brotherhood of sleeping carporters And by virtue of that he had political Standing he was the kind of person who Could write letters to President Roosevelt call President Roosevelt and Expect to get get an answer In the lead-up to World War II once President Roosevelt announces that America is going to be the arsenal of Democracy that's going to provide all These tanks and trucks and supplies to To the allies Randolph and others recognize that that Means jobs it means that these defense Industries are going to be built up all Over the country and that it's important That black Americans have a chance to to Access those jobs

He forms a group called the March on Washington committee and so in early 1941 before the United States has Entered officially entered World War II He threatens to lead a March of a Hundred thousand black Americans on Washington DC to protest two things to Protest discrimination in the defense Industries because at the outset these Defense Industries are not hiring black Workers hardly at all and to protest Segregation in the armed services in the Armed forces Um he Receives a huge amount of media Attention particularly in the black Press for uh this this proposed March And he's traveling all over the country And he has um essentially organizing Captains all over the country by virtue Of having this role in the union they're They're forming groups in in Dallas and Oakland and Atlanta and New York Preparing to bring thousands and Thousands of black Americans to lead This March on Washington He's in direct conversation with President Roosevelt Um eventually he gets a sit-down meeting With Roosevelt and some of his advisors In the summer of 1941. initially Roosevelt's refuses to do anything Um Randolph's demanding that he takes Some

Um specific steps to address Discrimination defense Industries and to Address segregation in the arms Armed Forces initially Roosevelt refuses to do Anything because he says if I negotiate With you on this I'm going to have to Negotiate with everyone else who has any Any sort of claim Eventually through a series of back and Forth negotiations Randolph is successful in getting President Roosevelt to sign an executive Order executive order 8801 that Um at least on paper is meant to Eliminate discrimination in these Defense Industries Um at the time it's hailed within the Black press as a second Emancipation Proclamation it's uh potentially a huge Deal because it means that black Americans are now going to have a chance To access these really important War Jobs as it turns out it doesn't do Everything it says it's going to do on Paper and so It's a watershed moment in terms of what Randolph is able to negotiate directly With the white house and get president To sign this executive order it's also Important because while he ends up Calling off the March on Washington that Idea continues to percolate within black Communities and it forms the the basis So it becomes a March on Washington in

1963. this idea of the march in Washington is first introduced in 1941 It doesn't actually come into fruition For two decades but it remains a A source of Political organizing and activism Throughout the war to make sure that Black War workers actually have a chance To work in these defense Industries What happened when the soldiers came Back from the war And we had this GI Bill I mean you you have some really Interesting stories in here about how People would maneuver around to prevent The black soldier from enjoying the the Fruits of the of the war which is the GI Bill So GI Bill legislation was perhaps the Most important peace legislation in the 20th century it's what enabled a whole Generation of white veterans to be able To enter the middle class because it Provided access to low interest Mortgages that were backed by the VA Provided access to college tuition Benefits to job training benefits to Loans to open up small businesses By and large Black veterans weren't able to to Benefit from the GI bill in the same way That white veterans were and that was Largely by Design going back to James o Eastland it was Southern segregation

Centers like him who held a number of The key positions on the veterans Committee and as they're discussing GI Bill The GI Bill legislation they make sure That it's going to be distributed at the State and local level rather than at the Federal level and everyone at the time Understands what that means when you do Things at the state level it means You're deferring to the racial policies Of the states which in the context of World War II meant the kind of Jim Crow Policies that southern states had and That's what what happens when black Veterans come back in the South they try To access The benefits from their local offices Almost all of the Personnel who work at These local veterans offices are white And they have the discretion to be able To to either turn people away entirely Or to give them the runaround and so There were cases of black veterans Trying to get College tuition benefits And being directed to vocational Programs because they said there's no Reason for you to go to a four-year College because there's no there's no Jobs that are suited to Black Americans From from those kind of programs the Mortgage benefits were largely useless Initially because the GI Bill didn't Have any sort of Provisions to address

The Discrimination that was in the Banking and mortgage industry and so Not only in the South but in places like New York New Jersey black veterans Couldn't get these VA backed mortgages Because Banks and lenders wouldn't lend To them by 1950 98 of those mortgages go To White veterans only two percent to Black veterans there's a group of Brandeis who's calculated what the Long-term impact of these uh Discriminated tactics were they show That Taken over a lifetime it's about a Hundred thousand dollar difference for An average black order two veteran in Terms of what they're able to get from These Shi Bill benefits compared to a White veteran and so when we look at the Vast racial wealth gaps in our country a Lot of that can be traced back to the Discrimination that was in the GI Bill By the way I know you're looking at Vietnam War for a next book and I looked Up the statistic this morning that Around 30 percent of the combat soldier In Vietnam uh was black How did we go from what we had in World War II to have where the population's Only twelve and a half 13 percent how Did we go that far for the Vietnam War And what impact do you think that had on This this whole issue of race in this Country

Thanks for asking about that a lot Changes between World War II and Vietnam Inc importantly in 1948 President Truman Signs an executive order that finally Desegregates the military one things That I try to argue in the book is that Segregation made no sense for the Military it was uh costly it was Inefficient was redundant the military Could have just easily desegregated in 1938 it was only racial Prejudice that Prevented that from happening but Finally in 1948 President Truman issues An executive order to segregate the Military and then by the end of the Korean war that executive board has Really kind of Taken hold that Desegregations piecemeal during the Korean War by the end of the Korean War Segregation is really a reality by time You get to Vietnam you have the military As one of the most integrated Institutions in all of American society And for a lot of black Americans they Actually see the military as a really Excellent career opportunity and so the Reason you have a much higher percentage Of black combat troops is is twofold one Between the Korean War and the sort of The Vietnam War a lot of black Americans Have joined the military because they See it as a positive career pathway and So the percentages are higher for that And then once the the Draft starts you

See more African-Americans being drafted And assigned to combat roles as opposed To more white Americans being put in Some of the the technical roles Um and so it presents a very very Different uh Instead of racial demographics and Composition than what you saw during During World War II in terms of the Bigger picture and what it meant um It was Complicated in a couple of ways Um The military Remained a site that Was more racially integrated than almost Any other aspect of American society but It also remained a place where racism Was still an everyday reality when you Look at some of the oral histories from Black veterans during Vietnam they talk About seeing the Confederate flag Displayed prominently on bases in the US But also bases in Vietnam and elsewhere They talk about seen white troops even Wearing KKK regalia and how upsetting That was and then racial habitats were Just a part of day-to-day life and so Both those things were kind of part of The lived reality for black troops During Vietnam that yes it offered many More opportunities than what their Fathers or grandfathers would have Experienced in the military and offered

Many more opportunities than many Civilian jobs would but at the same time There was much more daily racism and Institutional racism than Um than was acceptable I'm going to go back this is a combat Chapter and use this because when you See it it's hard to believe that there Was military Colonels and Generals are saying some of The things that they were back then you Talk about a colonel William momeyer or I'm not sure that's the way you Pronounce it but it says here that Tuskegee is Tuskegee Airmen felt that Momir never wanted them attached to his Unit How do you pronounce it by the way I Want to make sure I don't Mom you're a Mom here uh mummier was Colonel momir Was just plain Prejudice towards us Recalled span Watson a Howard University Alum from rural Johnston South Carolina Mama played Petty tricks to embarrass And undermine the 99th he scheduled Briefings and then moved the time up one Hour without notifying the black Pilots So that they arrived when the meeting Had ended where'd you find something Like that Um in the Recollections and oral Histories from these Tuskegee Airmen Pilots Um I think that's

Was important for me to try to include In the book because I think among the Black troops who fought in World War II The the Tuskegee Airmen are the most Prominent most well known but when you Actually look back at what they had to To endure during World War II it was It was a day-to-day week-to-week Struggle to prove themselves first to Get their foot in the door to have a Chance to train as Pilots than to get Deployed into combat and then to prove That they're actually doing a good job In combat and often the people they had To prove wrong were their own commanders They had some of these these commanders Such as mommier who were not excited About the idea of having black men in in The Air Corps and that's an important Story to remember well there's more Quotes from him it says it is my opinion That they are not a fighting caliber of Any Squadron in the group momya wrote They have failed to display the Aggressiveness and desire for combat That are necessary to a first-class Fighting organization did you try to Research and whether or not any part of That was true So it didn't go as far into details as Looking at the Looking at sort of the plane by playing Combat performance um but I did look at A number of those or internal Army

Documents these after action reports That modern and others issued and There's enough there to show that He wasn't making his judgments based Only on performance Um that the kind of critiques he was Making were not critiques that anyone Would make of a white Um a white fight unit who were flying in Combat for the first time but there was There was more there and the more there Was was racism that For him he was starting from a place That he didn't believe that these black Black troops should be in the Air Corps And that Um that prejudice's view of how they Performed in combat You have General Ben O Davis Senior and Ben O Davis Jr what's the story on Beno Davis Jr in the Tuskegee Airmen So Benjamin Davis Jr graduated from West Point in 1936. he was only the fourth Black American to ever graduate from West Point in the first in the 20th Century when he graduates the Army has No idea what to do with him because he Wants to be a pilot but at that point in 1936 the Army Air corps doesn't allow Any black American Suite pilots and so He's one of the main characters in the In the books I try to trace his his Trajectory in the military and how Frustrating it was for him to have

Graduated from West Point to be as Distinguished as any Young American Could be but still not have a chance to To defend his country as as a pilot It's not until 1941 that the Army Finally establishes the air base in Tuskegee Alabama where they're going to Train this cohort of black pilots and Then the challenge for him is that They're there from 1941 until 1943 Training for almost two full years Before they're given the opportunity to Go into combat in the Mediterranean Whereas white pilots in the same time Frame were training for six to eight Weeks before they deployed and so Part of the story for Davis was he's About as distinguished as you can Imagine he Wants everything he can to help defend His country First he has to just get his foot in the Door to to train and then they are on These recurring training missions uh Over months and months and months in Alabama and the conditions on the air Base in Alabama were in many ways Horrendous that he and others described The the segregation the racism they Encountered both on the base and and off Base when they went into other parts of Alabama Um Then as you're saying

Um once they actually get a chance to to Fly in a Mediterranean their first Commander mamir Um is really negative on their Performance and his after action report And so it's not until months later once They have a chance to have a second and Third opportunity at combat and start to Shoot down Nazi planes that he and the Other uh Tuskegee Airmen are finally Able to to prove themselves And so I think his his trajectory and What he encountered and endured is Um is really good starting point to Understand what a lot of black Americans Encountered during the war Davis was a Deeply patriotic person I mean he was offended that the military Was segregated he was offended that he Didn't have the opportunity to initially To be a pilot and then he was offended That his commanders didn't treat him in The same way they treated white pilots And Um what do you what he and the other Airmen were able to To accomplish was was tremendously Important what was his final rank in the Air Force I know he's a general I can't remember If he was a four-star or not You know that's a great question he Received an additional star after Retirement say I I was like I'm sorry I

Can't remember if you made it to four Star or not A lot of names in your book I'm just Going to Rattle them off you can pick One of them to expound on Thurgood Marshall Ella Baker James Thompson Langston Hughes James John hope Franklin James Baldwin and I mentioned earlier A Philip Randolph Mary McLeod Bethune Lester Granger Walter White Charles Hamilton Houston Bayard Rustin pick one of those and tell Us about them and how important were They to The Whole World War II movement I'll pick Ella Baker if people are Familiar with her name they know her as A Well-known Grassroots activist who Really pioneered a set of organizing Techniques that were brought to the Foreground by the student Nava Coordinating Committee Snick in the 1960s and even later movements like Black lives matter in the 2010s During the World War II however Baker Worked with the NAACP and her job was to Travel all over the country helping Build membership and build branches That's important because she helped to Build the infrastructure for what Emerged as a much larger civil rights Movement in the 1940s and 50s so she's She's traveling to big cities and small Towns helping or local people organize

To fight for issues that matter to them And their communities issues like job Discrimination voting rights School Segregation and what was important about Her approach to organizing is that she Believed any person had the capacity to Be a leader that you didn't need to be a Doctor or a lawyer or a professional Class black person to be a leader but You could be a sharecropper it could be A an everyday person and be a leader in Your community She trained people like Rosa Parks at These leadership workshops who went on To have really distinguished careers as Civil rights organizers and she helps to Make the nipple CP A much larger National Organization by the end of World War II and so at the start of the War NAACP is a fairly small organization That's really clustered in the Northeast By the end of the war they have branches All over the country and their Membership has increased tenfold it's Largely due to her one of the my Favorite things that I found in my Research was some papers that are in her Um her collection at the Schomburg Library in Harlem Where she was working to organize Membership even among active duty Soldiers and Sailors and so there were Units of a black troops stationed abroad In places like Normandy who were

Organizing raising money passing the Helmet around and then sending their Spare money back to the United States to Help the NAACP fight for voting rights Back here in the U.S I think that's one Of the clearest illustrations of the Double Victory campaign that you had These black troops fighting fascism Abroad and then sending money back home So people like Al Baker and people she's Working with could fight racism at home This isn't double Victory but you do Mention I mean it it's an illustration But you do mention what happened when The German pows And the mess hall compared how they were Treated in our mess Halls when they had Them here in the United States versus How the black man or woman was treated In the missiles explained that Yeah one of the most frequent and Frustrating stories that black veterans Told after the war was how German pows Were treated better than black soldiers And black black veterans what they Described is that these German pows were Allowed to eat in parts of the mess Halls right allowed to sit in parts of Movie theaters allowed to use Recreation Facilities and a lot of certain parts of Train cars and buses that were off Limits to black soldiers that the racial Policies the segregation policies at the Time continued to block black Americans

From all these things but allowed German Pows to to take on to take on these Benefits of whiteness it was so Frustrating for black soldiers for black Veterans because just months before These German soldiers have been trying To kill American soldiers but now There's the white American soldiers Being chummy and friendly with German Pows in ways that they were never Friendly towards black soldiers it Really made them question the sincerity Of their fellow white soldiers in Fighting this war because they it became Clear of them they weren't necessarily Fighting for the same thing that once The military conflict ended they Received these German pows with a much Warmer welcome than they ever received Black Americans that it stealed their Resolve to fight for actual freedom and Democracy here in the United States What mark would you give FDR He had among the most challenging Presences that that any American President has ever had Um I would say I would Rate them highly in terms of Randomly in terms of the executive order That attempted to limit discrimination In the defense industries that it didn't Produce everything it could have

Potentially produced Um but that at the time it was signed in 1941 uh it was among Among those forward-looking pieces of Legislation Um With regards to employment and that it Had it did open up the defense Industries to more more black workers I think unfortunately I would give lower Marks in terms of Um addressing the the significant amount Of racism in the United States during The war head on Um thinking just about what was going on In the home front there were numerous Racial clashes uh race riots all across The country in 1943 there are more than 240 race riots in the United States Alone there are numerous examples of Racial violence against black troops on Army bases those are things that a President Shouldn't speak to and should should Have addressed Um and they weren't a secret to him they Were things that civil rights activists Continually brought to his his attention People wrote letters constantly Constantly called him about it I think The reason he didn't is that there was a Much larger World War happening and he had other Things on his on his agenda but I think

Even more pressingly he was relying on Votes from the southern wing of the Democratic party that um wanted no Changes to the racial hierarchy no Changes to the racial status quo and so I think on that uh Roosevelt could have Done a lot more to address the the very Real realities of racism in the country During the war in in your relationship To the internet as this book comes out And people read it have you gotten any Kickback feedback negative comments Racial comments about what your position Has been in this book It's funny I would say 95 has been very Positive Um and that's across many different Audiences so I had a chance to talk to More liberal audiences more conservative Audiences and by and large people are Supportive of the book's main arguments That we need to recognize the vital role That black troops played during the War Uh the fact that those black veterans Came back and fought for civil rights And that we need to honor that Generation of black Americans to Black Veterans I'd say 95 of people are very Positive about that the critiques have Gotten in is mostly on Twitter and other Social media Um it's it comes in in two ways one There's sort of a knee-jerk reaction Some people have to any

Um specific focus on black Americans or Black troops and so people will say what About Native American soldiers or what About the white soldiers and it's a Weird thing to say for a a work of History because any book you take is Focused on a specific subject right no Like that's why we have bookshelves and Libraries and uh we have this book is Meant to contribute a perspective to the Much larger shelf of books on on World War II but I think it also comes from a Place that's Uh That's suspicious of any Um Any efforts to to put black Americans at The center of a national story like this I think I think that that's what's frustrating About it and then there are other people Who have uh one are cool about details About the um the number of black Americans who served or number five Americans who died in combat Um and those are usually mean-spirited Um and I I consistently if I find Frustration I'm frustrated that people Would do anything to to speak negatively About black veterans from World War II Uh in today's today's day and age Is it do I gather you've been at Dartmouth since 2019 Yes why did you decide to go to

Dartmouth Uh the honest answer is my wife got a Job here and they they had a job in my Field as well and so so we moved Together Um I think another answer is that that I Mean Dartmouth obviously it's amazing Amazing institution uh it's a tremendous Research institution tremendous Undergraduate population Um it has the benefit of having a Tremendous amount of resources a great Alumni network and so I've loved being Up here uh working at Dartmouth teaching Dartmouth and in living in the New Hampshire area what does your wife do There Uh she's a professor in film and media Studies she works on the history of Quantification of all the things you've Done what has gotten the most attention Over the years all your books and your Websites and your teaching and all that I think overall this book has gotten the Most the most attention Um and I think maybe the one that was Most pleasantly surprised about was in The lead-up to the book last February I Did a A Twitter thread where each day during February I highlighted one black veteran From World War II uh some well-known People like Doris Miller and then some Westville known people people like

Debbie Johnson round trees with the Women's Army Corps there were I think More than ten thousand people who Retweeted that thread Um and so I think for me I like those Kind of small touch points trying to get More people thinking about this history In just everyday ways that I'll always Be able to talk to my students directly Always be able to do kind of large Public presentations and write books but I think it's important for everyday Americans to to be thinking about All aspects of American issue I think Ideally thinking about black history now It helps us better understand how our Country got to where it is today The name of this book from Matthew Delmont is called half American the Epic Story of African-Americans fighting World War II at home and abroad and we Thank you so much for your time yeah Thanks so much for having me Thanks for listening to the book notes Plus podcast please rate and review book Notes plus and don't forget to follow so You never miss an episode Questions or comments we would love to Hear from you you can email us at Podcasts at C hyphenspan.org [Music]