World War I, II, and the Civil Rights Movement

With emancipation proclamation and the abolishment of slavery, African American Negros continued to struggle for social equality, civil liberties, and equal rights. The impact of discrimination and racism towards African Americans was harsh and desperate. Forced to live in a segregated society, with limited rights and resources and struggling to maintain their livelihood, many Americans began to argue equal rights.  Some had limited access opportunities. They did not receive quality education, faced job discrimination, limited housing, and intimidation by from whites in the North and South. Blacks in the West and parts of North had access to voting rights. Down south however, voter participation among Blacks proved impossible. It instigated lynchings and death of families and leaders in the community. Despite the oppressive state of Negros during this time, they participated and excelled in American military and combat. To uphold America’s stronghold as a global power, Presidents such as Johnson and Roosevelt used Negro participation in military combat to pave the way for social reform. This was done through policy and legislature. It was a strategy used to fix social problems faced at home all the while recognizing the power of the Black vote. Presidential support of integration and participation of African Americans in the military helped to stimulate the movement for civil rights.  

War marks the beginning of the American civil rights movement. It is suggested throughout history as war often evolved around social change. This can be seen during the Civil War and later during WWI. The war climate allowed African Americans to get a strong hold on social progression and equality. With the country in need of strong men to fight for the country, African Americans were allowed to join and participate in the military. Blacks in the military were often grouped together to form all Black platoons. Although segregated, they were granted benefits unequal to those found of civilians such as regular pay, housing, and medical care. This created opportunities for Negro men during a time when few opportunities were available. It can be observed in WWI as many blacks felt they were not only fighting in a war abroad but also the war for social justice at home. Furthermore, during the war Blacks were able to receive employment and profit from the war economically. More industrial positions were available for African American men and women at home. This is because jobs the able bodied white men who once filled this position were now away at war. Before the war they were often denied. However, once the war Blacks were forced to come back home to a country with little opportunities and heavy oppression. Treated as equals on the battle field and in countries abroad, Negros became fed up and began to take action.

Many Whites began to acclimate and sympathize with Negros and the Negro struggle. Even president Roosevelt recognized the need for social reform when he improved public welfare through his legislation known as the New Deal. However, Roosevelt failed to address the challenges faced by the Black community. This was seen as many received little government aid throughout the great depression that followed after WWI. Despite the lack of support, many were able to benefit from the New Deal. “Black illiteracy dropped because of federal education projects, and the number of black college students and graduates more than doubled”, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 763). Although Roosevelt was afraid of losing votes from southern whites, he continued to fight for equality and social welfare for Negros. Even the first lady participated as “Eleanor Roosevelt prodded FDR to appoint black officials, wrote articles supporting racial equality, and flouted segregationist laws”, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 762). Roosevelt helped to combat the racial issue and promote integration by “appoint[ing] black people to important positions, including the first black federal judge [and] prohibited discrimination in the WPA in 1935”, (Goldfield, Abbot, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 763).

A push for social equality and reform occurred again during the 1940’s with WWII. Of the 16 million men who served in WWI, over 1 million were Black. However, service to the country did not stop discrimination of Negro soldiers as they suffered from hostile treatment during training and off the combat field. Rioting broke out in military camps over mistreatment. However, Blacks continued to “earn distinguished records” in all Black platoons such as the 761st tank Battalion and the 99th Pursuit Squadron, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Aregersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 787). As seen in WWI, Blacks, “found economic advancement through war jobs”, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 790). To further encourage social equality, Roosevelt implemented the Executive Order 8802 in 1941 “barring racial discrimination in defense contracts and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee” to help combat the problem, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pg. 790). Later in 1946, Roosevelt “appointed the Committee on Civil Rights” which helped to “modify their racial restrictive policies and prohibited racial discrimination in federal employment”, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011). With Blacks now allowed to integrate into organize sports in 1947, Jack Robinson and his success as a baseball player further stimulated social progress and civil rights to African Americans.

“African Americans themselves pressed for reforms”, throughout the 1930’s through the 1960’s, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011). This was seen especially during the mid-1930’s when many Negros hit the pavement in protest of wage discrepancies and “discriminatory policies”, (Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, & Barney, 2011 pf. 763). Later in the 1940’s Blacks fought for decent housing and a way out of the ghettos. Community and religious organizations, all the while began to join in the effort.  Many churches became hubs for service programs, social organizations, and education. With churches becoming safe-houses and taking on the load of social welfare, they became the foundation for the civil rights movements. The struggle continued with the Brown vs. Board of Education which outlawed separate but equal clause. With a heightened climax and culture clashes among Black and Whites, the battle for social equality continued. Whites across the North and South protested against integration through violence. This was seen with the integration of schools in Little Rock Arkansas, the 1960’s sit-ins in Greensboro North Carolina, Freedom rides, and bus boycotts in Alabama, Blacks were no longer excepting segregation and discrimination as a way of life.  

Nonviolent protest of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with the aid and support of President Johnson, the movement escalated. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, he sent out the Army National Guard to support Blacks as they protested for civil rights, stood up to southern whites, and helped African Americans receive their civil liberties. When reading on the history of African Americans and their struggle for rights, it seemed President Roosevelt and Johnson were fed up with the continuing issue and pushed for reform to wash the country clean of this social issue. During their presidency, both Roosevelt and Johnson pushed for reform despite public unrest. Despite the push for civil rights by Presidents and African Americans, wars such as WWI and WWII opened the door for African Americans and social justice, social equality, and civil liberties.  




Goldfld, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., &Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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