Fighting for the Right to Fight Electronic Field Trip

-It was a time of struggle, a
period of daily discrimination, an era that sparked
the fight for one’s rights. And yet, the war had
only just begun. It was 1941
and the U.S. was at war. However, while battles
ensued far overseas during World War II, another fight was already
taking place close to home soil. Although President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt banned discrimination
against African-Americans in the defense industry
that year, segregation in
the armed forces remained. Nevertheless, more than
2.5 million African-Americans registered for the draft
when the war began. And over 1 million served. As a result of this
dual fight for freedom, African-Americans
pursued a double victory, one over Axis abroad and the other over
discrimination at home. Hello, everyone,
and welcome to this special electronic field trip. This webcast is
coming to you live from the National
World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’m Commander Damon Singleton, meteorologist
and retired naval officer. Throughout the entire month
of February, we call special attention to the
stories of African-Americans. The founders of
Black History Month, the Association for the Study
of African-American Life and History or ASALH,
provide a theme each year, focusing on historical
issues of importance. 2018’s theme is
African-Americans in times of war. Through that lens, this webcast will spotlight
significant history and perspectives
of black Americans with students like you
all across the country. Today is also
Digital Learning Day and we have a unique opportunity
for you to learn and participate live with us
right from your classroom. Throughout the program,
there will be polls for you to vote on
that help inform our story. Shortly, we’ll be joined
by World War II expert and museum historian
Dr. Rob Citino, who’ll be providing insights and answering
some of your questions. If you’re watching
on the museum website, you can ask questions
and answer polls in the box
directly below this screen or you can go to
and type in the code #S085 to join in the conversation. Captioning for this program
is also available below. You’ll also meet our two
excellent student reporters Mizani Ball here in
New Orleans and Maceo Carney, broadcasting
from California’s Bay Area. They are exploring
important sites, checking out historic artifacts, and talking to very special
guests along the way. Before we take
this coast-to-coast trip with Maceo and Mizani, we begin our story with a date
which will live in infamy — December 7th, 1941. It’s a day that shocked
our nation when Japan launched
a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet
at Pearl Harbor. The next day,
Congress declared war. In addition to the Japanese
expansion in the Pacific, the Allies fought to stop
the spread of Fascism as Nazi Germany took control
of large parts of Europe. The country’s military
and defense industry mobilized to fight
and support a global conflict. Our factories buzzed
around the clock and our military swelled
to millions of Americans. Starting our exploration today
is reporter Mizani Ball who is in the museum’s
Arsenal of Democracy exhibit to learn about the build-up
of our war industries and what these
expanded opportunities meant for black Americans. But first, let’s take a look
at the opening poll question. +We’ll reveal the answer
once we return. Okay, take it away, Mizani. -Hi, my name is Mizani Ball
and, right now, I’m with educator
Shelbie Johnson in the museum’s newest exhibit,
the Arsenal of Democracy: The Herman and George Brown
Salute to the Home Front. -Welcome, Mizani. I brought you
to the exhibit today, so we can talk more about
discrimination in factories. Now we were in a time of war,
so jobs were plentiful, they were easy to come by
for both men and women, but this wasn’t the case
for African-Americans. If you were African-American,
it was very unlikely that you could easily get a job. Even white labor unions protested the employment
of African-Americans and, sometimes, white employees
would actually resort to violence
against African-Americans who were applying
for these jobs. -Now did anyone speak out
about this and how? -Yes. There were protests
all over the country. One that’s really famous
that never really took off was one that was proposed by
a man named A. Phillip Randolph. He organized 100,000 railroad
workers to march on Washington. The reason he did this, he felt
that the federal government wasn’t really taking a stand against this discrimination
in hiring practices. President Roosevelt eventually
yielded to Randolph’s demand, so the protests
didn’t take off. Instead, President Roosevelt
issued Executive Order 8802, which made it illegal to have
discriminatory hiring practices if you were a factory
that had a wartime contract with the government. Let’s take a look
at this poster here. This is a poster that was issued
by the government to enforce Executive Order 8802. What do you notice here? -Well, instantly,
I notice the black worker and the white worker
working together, which kind of symbolizes
the “United we win”. And then, I also the American
flag in the background. -Yes, so what do you think
the overall message is here? -I feel like the overall message
here on this poster is saying that we can come
together and work together and get things done and that segregation
really isn’t the way to go. -Yes, that appears to be
the overall message here, but we have to remember, this
wasn’t the reality in factories. During the war years, we were
living in a time of both legal and de facto segregation. Now, when we think
of legal segregation, we’re thinking
of the Jim Crow laws, things that were on the books, but de facto segregation
was more social, the status quo, what people found as normal. So once these African-Americans
were hired into factories, they could still be
segregated in the workplace, so this wouldn’t be
a typical image of a black man and a white man
working together. In addition, African-Americans
were discriminated against and segregated in cafeterias, even in entrances
into the building, and when factories did provide
housing to their employees, they would even segregate
the African-American and white employees that way. Now let’s go over and take
a look at another poster that shows us Pearl Harbor
survivor Obie Bartlett. What do you see? -Now I see Obie working
with a tool in his hand and he’s missing an arm and I know he served
in the military before getting injured
at the attack on Pearl Harbor and it says here that he takes
his job in the factory as serious as his time
in the war and then it also says,
“Twice a patriot”, which kind of means, for me, that, even though
he’s African-American and he’s an injured veteran,
he still matters. -So what do you think
the overall message is here to African-Americans? -I think the overall
message here is to reinforce
to African-Americans that working in a factory
is critical to winning the war and that, like you and Obie, we have to make sacrifices in order to benefit
the global struggle. -Yes, that’s exactly correct,
and African-Americans here in the United States
often received mixed messaging like this
because, on the one hand, this poster is telling you
it’s your patriotic duty to work in a factory, but on the other hand,
as I told you earlier, African-Americans
were discriminated against in the work place. Now, African-Americans did have
some progress in factories. At the beginning of the war, we had about
500,000 African-Americans working in defense jobs. By the end of the war,
we had approximately 1.5 million African-Americans
working in these defense jobs. Now, even though
they were employed, they weren’t always receiving
the best jobs or the best pay, so they were still
being discriminated against in the work place. -Okay, let’s take a look
at the answer to our first poll question. And the answer is true. As your heard Shelbie
in the last segment… To get a bit more insight about
war work on the home front, let me welcome in
Dr. Rob Citino, the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior
Historian here at the Museum. So Shelbie and Mizani were
exploring the Museum’s Arsenal of Democracy exhibit. What exactly does that mean? -Well, Damon, first of all,
it’s great to be here with you. I think we have a great show and there’s a lot of great
material to talk about. It’s going to be
an interesting class. We use the phrase
“Arsenal of Democracy” and that’s what
Franklin Roosevelt said in a speech, even before America
got involved in the war. What Arsenal of Democracy
implies is that America
not only had the ability, but also the duty
to produce weapons and material to fight the forces
of dictatorship abroad. Now, that’s not just to defend
the United States, but also to defend our allies. I’m thinking primarily here
of the British, even then locked
in a life-or-death struggle with the Nazis. And if the British went down,
that was going to be a very, very difficult
series of conquests on the part of Adolf Hitler to
roll back for the United States. So it made good sense
to help out friends and, at the same time,
make sure that we were defending ourselves adequately against this threat
that we found abroad. -Wow. You know, turning to here
in New Orleans, one of the more notable
defense companies in the city was Higgins Industries. What did they produce
during World War II? -So, that’s a good one
to answer, Damon, because they produced just about everything
that the U.S. Military and especially
the Navy asked for. But perhaps this is the iconic
item that they produced. This is a landing craft,
vehicle, personnel — LCVP. The military gives everything
in initials, of course, but better known
as the Higgins boat. What happens is this craft
sails up to the shore, the ramp comes down, and then troops or vehicles
pour off the ramp onto the beach ready to fight. So, Adolf Hitler famously said
Higgins was the new Noah, that is he took entire armies and put them
on these landing craft. Without the Higgins boat,
it’s impossible to imagine the United States
fighting the war that it did. And so, when you look here, you’re really looking
at the iconic U.S. naval craft
of World War II. Photos of D-Day
or any amphibious landing, you’re going to get
your share of Higgins boats. My father landed in one
on Guadalcanal in 1942, in fact. -Wow.
That’s amazing. So did these new jobs at Higgins
mean expanded opportunities for New Orleanians
or black Americans? -Absolutely. It’s fun to talk about the
equipment and I love to do it, but I can take you through
every tank and every naval craft in World War II, but I think
the bigger story here is that Higgins Industries — Andrew Higgins, the owner,
had a very, very good record. What he realized,
if you wanted to be efficient, you wanted
to produce efficiently, you had to treat
all your workers equally, so black, white, male, female, even those with
physical disability, all were paid pretty much
by the work they were doing and their work classification
at Higgins and that’s quite something given the tenor of the times
we were living in. Legal segregation
down here in South and all sorts of forms
of non-legal, but, nevertheless, very serious
segregation up north. So, you know, at the beginning
Higgins had a single plan of employing
a few hundred workers. By the end, seven big plants,
20,000 workers, 24/7/365. Americans pulling together
for the war effort. Without companies like Higgins, we have a very hard time
winning this war. -Yeah,
that’s incredible information. So let’s go to some
student questions. -Sure.
-And we got a few of them. So, here’s the first one from
Magoffin County High School. -It’s a good question. It takes us to that —
there’s a term today called “intersectionality”, how discriminated
against you are. African-American women
are really getting hit from two directions. You might say that there’s
the discrimination they’re receiving on the race
question, racial discrimination, but there’s also
the discrimination they’re experiencing as women,
so I can say I think and probably give
examples of the way that African-American women —
we tend to say, “African-Americans —
last hired, first fired”, but that might be particularly
true of African-American women who are kind of getting hit
by that double whammy. -Wow. Well, let’s go
to another question. -By all means. We can stand here
and do this, though. -This is from the same school. -Sure. De facto segregation —
so, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, so this would be the North
and this would be the land of not Jim Crow,
but de facto segregation. So there’s no law that says
whites and blacks have to have separate
facilities in Cleveland, Ohio where I grew up, but,
nevertheless, whites and blacks
do have separate facilities. There are secret arrangements
on the part of realtors as to who they will
sell a home to and who they won’t
sell a home to and what you wind up with
are segregated neighborhoods, but without the force of law,
but rather the force of custom. And, you know, that’s a problem
because you can change a law. You can go to Congress
and get a law changed, but what’s much more difficult
is to change people’s hearts, to change people’s habits,
to change people’s culture. -Wow. -By the way, I must say,
that’s some school. -Yeah, so similar things were
happening in both locations, just down here in the South
it was open and it was legal. -As a dino northerner,
I never try to be too brutal in my comments about the South, because the same things were
happening all over the country, simply without the force of law
as they were here in the South. -Thanks, Rob. Well, next time we’ll venture
to the World War II boomtown of Richmond, California. The war industry there
was heavily influenced by Henry Kaiser, who operated four shipyards
in the city. Kaiser also built housing,
hospitals, and childcare centers
to support this rapidly expanding population
flocking to the city for jobs. Our student reporter Maceo
is there to learn about these new employment
opportunities, but first, let’s take a look
at the next poll question. Now let’s go to Maceo
at a notable national park as he interviews
a true national treasure who both made and interprets
history in her town. ♪♪ ♪♪ -Hey, everyone.
My name is Maceo Carney. And I go to school
right here in the Bay Area. Today I’m taking you to sites
around northern California to learn a bit more
about African-Americans during World War II. We’re here at
a really neat national park, the Rosie the Riveter
World War II Home Front National
Historic Park in Richmond, California
to discover more. The Rosie The Riveter World War II Home Front
National Historic Park tells the story
of millions of Americans who mobilized after
the attack on Pearl Harbor to support the war effort, causing shifts in our society
and our culture. Despite being united in a common
purpose of defeating the Axis, not all Americans received
fair or equal treatment, even with plentiful
new employment opportunities. To share the mission and stories
of this park, along with her own World War II story,
is Betty Reid Soskin, who is the oldest active
U.S. Park Ranger. Thanks for joining us
today, Betty. If you don’t mind me asking,
how old are you? -I’m 95 and will be
96 in September. -How long have you been working
at the Rosie the Riveter site? -I came here in the year 2003, as a consultant to
the National Park Service. I became a ranger 10 years ago. -Betty, why exactly
was Richmond, California chosen as the site
for this national park? -Well, though they were many,
many boomtowns throughout the country
around different plants, it was only here in Richmond there were enough
still-standing structures related to that era through
which to interpret the history. Everywhere else, they’d been
redeveloped out of existence. Here in Richmond, though
these sites were not revered as historic landmarks, this was a city
that was a very poor city that couldn’t afford
to knock them down and put something else up. The signs of the Richmond
Shipyards were still here. All of that history was still
evident in the city of Richmond, so it became the only place
in the country through which you could
interpret that history with any kind of accuracy. -Lots of new jobs in Richmond, but not for
all Americans, right? -That’s right. That’s right,
except that Henry Kaiser for his four Kaiser Shipyards imported a workforce of 98,000
black and white southerners out of the five Southern
states of Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas,
Texas, and Louisiana. These were whites
coming off the Dust Bowl and blacks coming up from the
slow mechanization of cotton. Everybody recovering from the
Great Depression of the ’30s. Possible for a black man to be standing on the sidewalk
in Jackson, Mississippi where southern tradition
would demand that he not only not make eye
contact with a white person, but that he also
step into the gutter if a white person approached. That man could find himself
tapped on the shoulder by a Kaiser recruiter
and find himself two weeks later in the city of Richmond, riding in the front of the bus
10 years before Rosa Parks would refuse to give up
her seat in Montgomery, Alabama. So, here in Richmond,
that cauldron that absorbed all of those southerners
had to deal with it without the benefit of focus
groups and diversity training. They had to all answer
the mission of their leader, which was, simply, build ships faster than the enemy
could sink them with no time to take on
a broken social system. They were all living
under the common threat of fascist world domination,
so the black-and-white struggle played itself out
in the city of Richmond in many, many ways, unlike other
parts of the country. -I see we’re sitting next to a
sign that says “Double victory”. What does that mean? -You know, it’s striking to me
that that’s so forgotten. African-Americans come here and they’ve never heard
of the Double V campaign. And it really was the campaign
that set in motion what happened in the ’60s. It was actually created
by James Thompson, who was a young man
in his mid-20s who was due to be drafted
into the armed forces and who sent in a letter
to thePittsburgh Courier,which was probably
the most widely read black newspaper nationally. And he sent it in saying
that he was perfectly willing to fight for his country, but that he thought
that there were two battles — that he thought that
his people, African-Americans, those like us, should not only be fighting
for victory overseas, but they ought to be
fighting for justice at home. And he encouraged —
that encouraged the creation of the Double V campaign that was promoted by
thePittsburgh Courierand it became, actually,
a national movement. -Did you see yourself as a Rosie
the Riveter during the war? -No, I didn’t. I don’t even see myself
as that now. The country that we were then is
not the nation that we have now. For instance,
I grew up as a child with the service workers’
generation. Our fathers and our uncles
were the red caps and the pullman porters
and the bellhops and the janitors
and the laborers. And our mothers were
50¢-an-hour domestic servants. But I share that history, in order to indicate
that being a clerk, even in a segregated union hall
in 1942, was a step up. My folks were really proud of me because I wasn’t
making beds in a hotel. I was a clerk, which in 1942
would have been the equivalent of today’s young woman of color being the first in her family
to enter college because that’s how different
we were in those years. And I hope
you can understand that, but that’s how much
social progress the country has made
over those 70 years. You’re not living in that world, but that’s the world
I grew up in. At the time that Rosie
the Riveter was a campaign to entice women
out of their homes into non-traditional labor
for the first time, to take the place of the men
who are off fighting, that was simply
not my story at all. -Betty, before you had mentioned
that you had worked as a clerk, could you please specify
your jobs as a clerk? -Yeah, I was working
for Boilermakers Auxiliary 36. The unions were not yet
racially integrated. They wouldn’t be another decade. And so, the unions
created auxiliaries and that’s a fancy word
for Jim Crow. And that was where all
the black workers were dumped. I came in every day
in a car pool. I changed addresses
on 3×5 file cards of people who were constantly in motion ’cause everyone was trying
to get settled into housing and I was doing this
to save the world for democracy. As you can see, it worked. It’s also true
that I had no idea what was happening around me. I never saw a ship
under construction, I never saw a ship
being launched. I was in a temporary building
that was torn down immediately when the war ended. At 20, I was — what — maybe four years older
than you are, five years. I was not much more
than a child, slightly out of adolescence. The larger political issues
were not a part of my life at the time. I only could see
what was around me and that was
that little union hall. -Why do you think
it’s important for Americans to remember all
of these home front stories? -Because it’s out
of who we have been that has determined
who we’re going to be. The future’s based on the past and we have
encapsulated our past in this series
of national parks. One could educate themselves by traveling through
the national parks of which there are now over 400. I think it is the greatest gift
for ourselves. And it is important, especially
for African-American children, to go back and walk
through the past because we’ve been left out
of a lot of history, but we can reconstruct it
and that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re doing here. -These historic sites spread
throughout all of Richmond remind us of the tremendous
economic, social, and cultural changes
on the U. S. home front brought about by the war. These changes
had a lasting effect on the fabric
of American society and exposed unity and division
and harmony and disparity within our diverse country. -Wow, an amazing woman. Thank you, Maceo and Betty. Now let’s check out the answer
to the last poll question. Amazingly, the answer is D. Now, Betty mentioned
the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Let’s bring in Rob Citino
to share with us to share the story
of another bus rider who took a stand when he was
ordered to go to the back. -So, a little
show-and-tell time, Damon. I have a baseball card.
What are we looking at? -Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson. He was one of the best
in the MLB, racking up accolades
like Rookie of the Year and National League MVP, all while his team,
the Brooklyn Dodgers, won six pennants
in his 10 seasons. -You know, all true, of course,
but there’s another story to tell about Jackie Robinson. A few years before he became
the baseball icon that he became,
he was also in the U.S. Army. He was in the 761st
Tank Battalion in World War II and he refused to go to the back
of the bus while riding on base. He was court martialed,
that is, put on trial for breaking the laws
of the U.S. Army at the time. He managed to go public
with this story, went to thePittsburgh Courier,one of the great
African-American newspapers of the day, and won defenders
in other newspapers, as well, and he got his story out. The charges were dropped and
eventually Jackie was acquitted of all those charges
and discharged from the Army. But, you know, a shout-out, too, to that unit,
the 761st Tank Battalion. They were in combat almost constantly
during World War II — an African-American unit, 138 straight days at the front,
in contact with the Germans. I don’t know if it’s a record, but it’s certainly
something, though. It’s something worthy
of an accolade. They went by the nickname, a
name much in the news nowadays, they were the Black Panthers. -It’s okay.
[ Chuckles ] -And just fought
as well as any unit in the entire U.S. Army
in World War II, so… You know,
that’s the kind of story we’re trying to tell here today. There’s a view of combat
in World War II that largely emphasizes
the white soldier. We’re trying to broaden
that picture a little bit today. -Yeah, ’cause I know I certainly
didn’t hear much about this unit
when I was growing up. -Yeah, today you can find
a lot of good books on the 761st,
the Black Panthers. -Wow. So, an inspiring
and courageous story of one of America’s most
highly regarded sports heroes and the unit in which he served. Let’s turn
to a couple of questions. -Absolutely.
Let’s do it. -So, this is from Benjamin. -He sure did. Henry Kaiser is a —
what’s the word? A visionary in many ways. Not only in terms of building
the ships faster, more efficiently, and churning them out
in abundance, but also realizing
a healthy workforce was going to be
a more productive workforce. And Kaiser Shipbuilding was probably
the first firm in America to have some kind of general
health care for their workers. The corporation today,
Kaiser Permanente, which is a massive,
nationwide, health-care organization comes from the care that Kaiser
first provided to his workers in his Richmond, California
facility. -That’s incredible. Let’s go to another question.
-Absolutely. -This is from Ms. McGrath. -I think in general you can
probably answer this question in terms of their male
counterparts, as well, that by and large
African-American workers were given more difficult jobs
under more difficult conditions, perhaps the jobs
where you couldn’t produce such a large number
of pieceworks, so, de facto, you might be paid
a little bit less, even though your hourly wage
was the same. I’ve mentioned already once, it was the sort of
“last hired, first fired”. And so, if you’re looking
at both women and both race, you know, you probably
have African-American women who occupy that position and so,
by virtue of their white skin, white women probably a bit up
on that hiring-and-firing scale. -Wow.
Thanks, Rob. So, let’s reveal
our latest poll question. Maceo is back at another
national park to commemorate
a tragic day in history and reveal its critical legacy. -I’m at the Port Chicago
Naval Magazine National Memorial in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site commemorates
the 320 lives that were lost in the largest munitions
explosion in U.S. naval history. It was the worst disaster
to happen here at the home front
during World War II. Let’s go check out
the memorial to understand what happened here
on that tragic day in 1944. On July 17, 1944, Navy sailors
were loading explosives and ammunition into ships
right at this port when a massive explosion
occurred at 10:18 p.m., it created a fireball
approximately three miles across and was felt
over 450 miles away. Most of the 320 deaths
were black sailors who were never trained on
how to properly load ammunition and were pressured
by their commanding officers to load these
dangerous munitions as quickly as possible. Let’s talk with Kelli English, who is a National Parks
Service Ranger here at the site
to find out what happened next. -Hi, Ranger Kelli.
Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell me what type
of work was going on here at Port Chicago during the war? -Absolutely. Here at Port Chicago
during the war, even before the attack
on Pearl Harbor, the Navy had identified
that they needed a place that had deep water to be able
to load munitions and munitions are all those huge bombs
and missiles and warheads that they would use
during the war. And there are only a few
locations along the West Coast that had water that
was deep enough to be able to have
these huge ships come in and be loaded with
all of these munitions and so they were already
building a facility here at Port Chicago, which was called
Port Chicago Naval Magazine and this was the main place where munitions
were loaded to go out to what we call the
Pacific Theater during the war. -Who was working here
and what were they doing? -Here at Port Chicago
many African-American sailors who signed up
to work with the Navy were assigned here
to help load munitions and the work of loading
munitions was extremely dirty and it was extremely dangerous because these are huge bombs
and explosives and warheads and it was a really dangerous
sort of work. And, essentially, you had
a situation where you had almost an exclusively
African-American crew of sailors who were doing the most
dangerous job in the Navy, stateside at least. And it was a really,
very segregated situation, in that it was
the African-American sailors who were assigned
to do the dirtiest, most dangerous work
and that was pretty consistent with military practices
at the time. Along with segregating
like that comes a hierarchy of who is considered
to be more important and, in this case, more
expendable or in the sense that, if an accident happened
with loading munitions, “Well, at least, it was only
the black sailors that we lost”. And it’s very hard for us
to understand that today in today’s world, but that really was
the world that existed back then in the 1940s. And I should add, too,
that this was in the middle of this huge mobilization for trying to get
all of these munitions out to the troops overseas
as fast as possible. And so, the white officers would
even have races with each other, like they were racing to see
whose unit could load the most munitions the fastest. Here at Port Chicago,
they were racing with some of
the other operations in the Bay Area
like at Mare Island and other loading areas
across the Bay. And so, they were not paying
any attention whatsoever to safety practices. -What were the conditions
like at work? -Well, it was pretty
hot [ Chuckles ], as you can see today. It’s a very hot day. Or at least it
would have been — there would have been
many hot days out here. And so, it was hot,
they were sweaty, they were working long hours. It would have been
pretty laborious. A lot of the things
that they were moving and lifting were really heavy. And, again, they were moving
around this really heavy, dangerous stuff, so they had to try to
move slowly and be careful but they worked long hours
out in the heat and it had to have been
pretty miserable, I would say. You know, so it would have been
really challenging, I think, for them and it is to their credit
that so many of them were so dedicated
to their country that they accepted
these conditions and they worked
and their main focus was on what they could do
to aid the war effort, despite all of these indignities that they had to endure
on a daily basis. -What happened the night
of the explosion? Were there any survivors? -Well, there are many things
that we do know about the night of the explosion,
but there are some things that we don’t know
and will never know. What we do know is that
at approximately 10:18 on the night of the explosion,
which was July 17, 1944, there were two explosions
that happened. The first one happened,
one explosion happened, and then a larger one
about seven seconds later. We don’t know exactly
what caused the explosions. We do know that the end results
was that the pier area here at Port Chicago
was more or less obliterated. There were two ships
at the time — the S.S.E.A. Bryant
and the S.S.Quinault Victoryand they were side-by-side,
being loaded. One was almost fully loaded and
the other one had just arrived and was in the process
of being loaded. So when the explosion occurred,
it was huge. The entire area shook. Windows were shattered
as far away as San Francisco. People were shaken out of bed. The town of Port Chicago,
which was nearby, was heavily damaged and
it produced this massive cloud that extended about
12,000 feet up into the air. This was a massive,
explosive event that shook and ruptured
the entire area. And no one knew
what was happening at first. I think everyone thought that
we might have been under attack, but, in fact,
we were not under the attack. It was just that something
had happened at the base with the munitions
and both of those ships and thousands and thousands
of tons of explosives and 320 men
had been blasted away. -Only weeks after the explosion,
the witnesses and survivors were all sent back to work, back to the same dangerous job
of loading ammunition with no regard for safety
or military protocols. As the men were in formation
to head down to the pier, some hesitated and stopped
when they received the order. -So, what happened to those
who refused to load explosives? -Everyone who survived
was severely traumatized because they were involved
in the clean-up of this area and so there were remains
of some of the deceased they had to clean up and it was very traumatic
for those who survived. They had what we like to call
“survivors’ guilt”, you know, because many
of them lost so many friends and the white sailors
were given sick leave and allowed to take time off to try to recover mentally
from this event, but the black sailors
after a very brief period during which they were
involved in clean-up were ordered back
to work much more quickly. And so, on August 9th,
barely three weeks or so after the explosion, some of the black sailors
who survived had been reassigned
to Mare Island and they were given the order
to return to loading munitions. That same dangerous job that had
gotten so many of their friends and mates killed
just a few weeks earlier. And they stopped
and they refused to go back to work loading those munitions. And they were threatened
with being charged with mutiny if they continued to refuse
to go back to work, so this is kind of
a work-stoppage, essentially. And, at that time,
when threatened with mutiny, 208 of them reconsidered
and went back to work and 50 more still refused to
proceed with loading munitions and so those 50 were arrested and they were then,
two months later, charged and tried with mutiny in the largest
group-mutiny trial ever in U.S. naval history. And they were convicted. -What is mutiny and what was
the verdict of the trial? -So mutiny is generally
considered to be an act of rebellion against authority. If you are in the military and you are refusing
to follow orders and you are rebelling
against authority, that is what
is considered mutiny. Now, mutiny can also be
very narrowly defined as something as simple
as refusing to follow an order. -We’re here at a special event. What makes this event
so important? Every year here at the park
we hold an event commemorating the anniversary
of the explosion and honoring the lives and sacrifices
and the legacy of Port Chicago to commemorate the explosion and to make sure that those men
who did lose their lives will not be forgotten and that the result
of the mutiny trial and the history that was made in terms of desegregating
the armed forces, that that history
will not be forgotten and we can continue
to learn from that history and from those stories, and so it’s a very special time
for us to just reflect on what happened here and on the meaning of it
and to reflect on our own personal connection
with the memorial and keeping the memory of those
lost souls alive by doing so. -The military
and National Park Service commemorate this tragic day in memory of those lost
with a somber ceremony, including a bell ringing,
flag folding, and placing a wreath
into the water of the bay. We take time to remind ourselves
of racial struggles, both back then and today, and our critical pursuit
of social justice in our modern world. Well, thanks to Maceo and
Major Kelli for their insight into the Port Chicago tragedy. It’s a story from World War II that deserves
national attention. Now let’s take a look
at the answer to the third poll question. The answer is B, Pearl Harbor. The story of Dorie Miller
is a pretty famous one. Let’s bring in Rob Citino
to talk about a lesser known story of African-Americans
in the military on one of the most
important days of the war. -Thanks, Damon. So, D-Day —
let’s go up to there. June 6, 1944, our big landing
on the west European coastline, big strike against
Hitler’s Fortress Europe. You know, there’s numerous
famous iconic photos of that era and I’m showing you this, Damon. What do you notice?
What’s going on here? -This is an easy one. You can see
all the barrage balloons. -So we have an image here
of barrage balloons. Now this is an interesting piece
of military technology. We’re worried about German
air attacks on the troops who have just landed. We have it pretty well-covered
from the Air Force, but you don’t want any of those
German aircraft slipping through and doing damage, loosening their bombs
or strafing troops on the beach, so you have something
called a barrage balloon. It floats above the beach
and dangles down these heavy metal cables, thus rendering it impossible
for any kind of low-flying enemy aircraft to attack. I would say it’s absolutely
essential to the overall success of the D-Day landing. Now, what I think has been
generally unknown up until now is the unit that took care
of that on those D-Day beaches, Omaha and Utah Beach
for the Americans. The 320th Barrage Balloon
Battalion, an African-American unit, and the only
African-American unit to land on those beaches
on that historic day. You know, they got the job done. Our troops were able to land,
we were able to land over 100,000 troops
in that one day, by and large they were immune
from German air attack. I mean, we had our own
Air Force covering it, but you also need this
second layer of protection because you’re talking
about life or death here. I think in a general way that
320th Barrage Balloon Battalion is a good story. We tend to tell the story
of World War II through the eyes and with the photos
of white military personnel, whether they be sailors
or soldiers, airmen. But there’s other
stories to be told. Every American in some way was
playing a role in that invasion and I think,
when you look at the 320th, you have a unit
who got the job done and did what had to be done, even within the confines
of a segregated military. -Yep. You know, I think a lot of
the youngsters out there today probably find it interesting
that you referred to a balloon with metal poles dangling
from them as technology. -Yes, right?
-It’s high-tech. -Right, right. I would say this is
medium high-tech. You know,
there’s high-tech aircraft and those run the gamut
and, of course, the Navy has always indulged
in high technology. This is kind of a —
you have an active defense, that’s your Air Force. You also have
passive defenses… -That’s right.
-…which are things just hanging in the air, making it impossible
for enemy aircraft to fly over that sector. -That’s great stuff.
Thanks, Rob. Hopefully,
we’re uncovering some of those untold stories today, too. Now let’s answer
some student questions. -Bring it on.
-Let’s see. Spencer J. Did African-American soldiers
get recognition and medals for their service? -Good question, Spencer. Certainly they did, up and down
the various kinds of military decorations you can
find except for the top levels. So, no African-American
military personnel was awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor during the war. So that’s the highest honor that
our country can bestow for valor in combat. And —
-But how many were awarded? -So, there were
several thousand, I think, awarded in the course — maybe many hundreds —
in the course of the war, I’d have to look
at the exact number. But no African-Americans received that
until decades later, when President Clinton
ordered a review of all the distinguished classes right under
the Congressional Medal of Honor that had been awarded
during the war and, in that case,
many injustices were rectified. We can just put it that way.
-Right. You know,
we were talking earlier about the awarding of medals
during World War I. And it was interesting
that the French awarded a lot
of African-Americans with some pretty high —
-There’s no doubt. There’s the French Croix de
Guerre, which is the War Cross, which many African-Americans received from
the French government at a time we can say their service
was being undervalued and under-rewarded
by their own government at home. -So, we have another question. And this is
from Riverheads High School. -That’s a great question
from Riverheads. I think there’s a couple
of ways to answer it, and the answer,
at first, is probably, “Yes, there were white pilots
who objected to that”, whether they were from the South or whether from
their own racist motivations. After they’d seen
the Red Tails in action, there’s nothing a bomber pilot loves more than a friendly
fighter aircraft flying immediately overhead
or below or on your flank, so I think this is an example
of where African-Americans really were able
to shatter stereotypes. Whatever kind of racist
misconceptions you might have had
about that at the beginning, you were glad the Red Tails
were there by the end. -Yeah. And, you know, in the movie
“Red Tails”, it was kind of — initially,
a lot of them had problems, but they were big fans… -By the end, I think
the only color you saw in a fighter aircraft
was red, white, and blue. -Right.
Man, oh man. So, Rob, we’ve got,
let’s see, one more question. -Sure. -From Isiah E. -Good question, Isiah. Yes, on the question of pay,
absolutely. The military has
a very good record — you’re paid on a scale, how long
you’re in, what your rank is, and it’s very difficult
to play around with that. In terms of the second part of
that question, about supplies, I think it’s safe to say
that the segregated military gave sort
of second-rate supplies, whatever was left over,
maybe surplus in some ways, that rarely did
African-American units get the sort of state-of-the-art
weaponry and supplies that maybe some of
their white counterparts did. -Wow. So, it’s time to open
our last poll question. In our final segment,
Mizani and Shelbie interview a very special guest who is a Tuskegee Airman
during the war. The Tuskegee Airmen
were the first black aviators and air crewmen
in the U.S. military. They were an impressive
and highly respected team soaring over Europe, earning over 150
Distinguished Flying Crosses. Let’s take a look. We’re back in the Museum’s U.S.
Freedom Pavilion in the Boeing Center to learn a bit more
about the contribution and the recognition of service
of African-Americans in the military. -We’re sitting here
with special guest Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy
who was a Tuskegee Airman. Lieutenant Colonel Hardy, can you tell us who
the Tuskegee Airmen were? -Well, the Tuskegee Airmen
were the first military Afro-American pilots in the United States Army
and in March of 1941 at Chanute Army Airfield
in Illinois, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was formed
with a white commander and 240-some
African-American young men. -When did you
start the military? Like, when did you
join the military? -Well, I joined the military
in 1943 and in March of 1943, the Army and the Navy decided if you’re 17
and a high school graduate, you can take
the aviation cadet exam. I took it and passed it
for the Army in March of ’43 and I was sworn in
as a private in the Reserve. -How did that segregation
affect you as an airman? -Well, the thing is that,
you know, we went into this thing, some people asked,
“Why did you fight?” “Well, it’s our country,
too, see.” And what it did, though,
because of that, I think we turned inward
to each other and I think it made us
a little stronger as a group, the fact that
we have an enemy out there, not only overseas,
but in this country. So, we worked together,
supported each other, and I think it made us stronger
individually and as a unit. When we went into combat, it showed
that we did produce very well. -Now let’s pause for a second and take a look
right up above us here. We actually have
a very important artifact. This is a P-51 Mustang. It’s a high-performing,
high-altitude fighter plane. Mizani, what do you notice
about this plane? -What I’ve noticed is that,
like, aside from the rest of the planes,
this one has, like, a red tail and it has different accents
of red and yellow on it, but it also has the same stars
as the rest of them. -Yes, very good observation. Now that red paint job
on the tail, that got
the Tuskegee Airmen the nickname the “Red-Tailed Angels”. The bomber pilots, they would
escort actually were so happy and thankful for the job that
they died they referred to them as the Red-Tailed Angels and, on this plane,
you’ll actually notice that there’s a name
painted on the side. The name is “Bunnie”. This plane is painted
in the likeness of Dr. Roscoe Brown’s plane,
which had the name Bunnie. And there’s one other thing
on this plane. You’ll notice a Nazi flag
on the side. That indicates that Bunnie
shot down a Nazi jet that flew over
a hundred miles per hour faster than this plane flew. -Did you fly a plane
like this one? -Yes, I did. And I ended up flying
21 combat missions overseas in March and April of 1945. I was 19 years old at the time.
-Wow. -But the war ended
in March and May of 1945. And it was a beautiful airplane. Like I said,
I had my Rolls-Royce engine at the age of 19.
[ Chuckles ] -Can you just describe
what it was like for you to, like, fly in a plane
like this during that time? -Well, it was out of the
world — second lieutenant flying a P-51 Mustang. Most people consider that the
best airplane in World War II. And it was fast,
responsive, and what-not. And flying formation — I usually flew as
a wingman over there. And I was a second lieutenant,
but also, we did a lot of strafing. If we weren’t escorting bombers,
we’d go down over Germany in flanks of four, looking for targets
of opportunity, to destroy trucks, trains, what-not that the Germans
may use to move supplies around, but the plane was so responsive, much more so than, say,
the P-47. And it was just as delightful. -Mr. Hardy, can you tell us
if the Tuskegee Airmen ever received any recognition
while going to war? -Why, yes. During the war,
the Tuskegee Airmen received hundreds of air medals awarded for flying over Europe
and they also received close to a hundred
Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service over there. -George, how was your
experience after the war when you came back home? -When we came back
to the States, nothing in the States
had changed. When I came back
in August of 1945, the war had ended
in the Pacific also and we landed in Virginia and went to a replacement center
in North Carolina. I wanted to stay
around airplanes, even if I couldn’t fly
any longer, so I asked about electronics
maintenance on airplanes and I was able to apply for a
school and went to that school. I selected September 5th,
ten months to Keesler Field, but in July, President Truman
signed an executive order directing the Army, Navy, and Air Force to submit plans
for racial integration. Within a month and a half, the Air Force had deactivated
332nd at Lockbourne and, in a period of weeks, the hundreds of people
at Lockbourne received orders to Air Force
units all over the world. The Air Force, in essence,
integrated and in a short period of time, the first of the service
to integrate. And I finished school in 1949 and was assigned
to the 19th Bomb Group on Guam. I was the only African-American
in the group at that time, assigned as
a maintenance officer, but as a pilot,
I also got to fly the airplane and I spent a time
with the 19th Bomb Group during the Korean War. A Tuskegee Airman.
Thank you, Mizani, Shelbie, and Lieutenant Colonel Hardy
for such an inspiring story. Now let’s uncover the answer
to the final poll question. The answer is C, 19 years
after World War II ended. -Thanks, Damon.
So as we heard from Colonel George and Ranger Kelly,
the armed forces began to integrate in 1948, but, you know, it was still
a long, long road to full integration
for African-Americans either in the military
or in American society at large. You know,
you have a situation — and I’ve verified this
personally from testimony — where you can be
a German prisoner of war in the United States
and you had full use of all the facilities
available to white American where an African-American
warrior, someone who fought against
Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, someone who had brought
victory to our country, still had to use those
second -rate, and segregated facilities,
and it’s an amazing story and if I hadn’t heard it
from people’s own lips, I’d have to admit,
I would not even believe it. -Wow. That’s kind of hard to hear. Jim Crow laws were still in full
force down here in the South. -Yes, and as we’ve said earlier
and I’ll reiterate it, I’m from the North and I try not
to give the North a pass either. Jim Crow was bad and so was
the kind of de facto segregation we found in the North, but, you know, we can take
a look at a few heroes — I’ll call them, because I think
the word is entirely apt — who fought the civil rights
struggle after the war and were influenced
by World War II, so, first, let’s think about
the story of a young lawyer who took part in
the Port Chicago trial — Thurgood Marshall. The chief counsel of the NAACP, he appealed the verdict
of the Port Chicago 50 trial and nine years
after World War II, he secured a major victory
in the famous Brown v. Board of Education
trial, which, finally,
declared school segregation to be unconstitutional, that you
could claim separate but equal, but it was a myth
and it always had been a myth. Separate was inherently unequal. Marshall went on in 1967 to become the first
African-American Supreme Court Justice,
served till 1991. He was a meticulous —
he compiled a case meticulously, he could also argue a case, and, for most of
my adult life growing up and becoming aware of politics, I was seeing
Thurgood Marshall, major player
on the American scene. Or think about
another kind of story, a man named Medgar Evers. As a young man, 17,
he enlisted in the U.S. Army and participated
in the Normandy Invasion. He served in France and Germany and was honorably discharged
in 1946. Now, after the war,
he returned home to Mississippi, his home state, earned
his college degree from — I believe it was
A&M at the time — Alcorn State University today. Became the first field officer
in Mississippi for the NAACP, not an easy job, where he helped double
membership in a few short years. He helped James Meredith integrate
the University of Mississippi, that landmark moment
in American history, when we said you can no longer
have a public facility that is reserved
for one race or the other. Riots broke out
on Mississippi campus and across the South and other
parts of the country, as well. There were multiple attempts
on Medgar Evers’ life and, eventually, he was shot
outside his home in 1963 by an assailant
lying in wait for him in the bushes of his driveway. He became a hero — I think
a martyr is a good term — for the civil rights struggle
and his efforts were integral in making civil rights
a reality in this country. It’s — I’m a little bit older
than you are, Damon, and I remember a song
by Bob Dylan, “The Ballad of Medgar Evers”. In fact, if we had time, I would
sing every word of it right now, but I think
we’ll just say to folks that you can find it online because it’s a good evocation
of that event. You know, finally,
I think we have moments when individuals
of different marginalized or discriminated groups band together
in the pursuit of equality. And I’m thinking here
of Ina Sugihara, a Japanese-American activist
whose work focused on building multi-racial
civil rights alliances. She migrated from California,
where she was born, to New York before the forced internment
of the West Coast Japanese after the attack
on Pearl Harbor. Founding member of the
Non-Violent Congress of Racial Equality or CORE,
who’ve done good work and continue to do good work
for the longest, longest time. She helped lobby
for the establishment of World War II-era
protections in housing, in job discrimination, in hiring practices,
in education, and had done good work
for the rest of her life, so these are a few examples. We’re not perfect. The country still has a long
road to go in this subject, in this area, but we’re better
off than we were in World War II and, partially, because
of really hard-working and very brave people like
the ones we just talked about. -That’s some great stories.
-Thanks. -So, obviously, the story
doesn’t end with World War II or the Civil Rights Movement. All Americans have the important
privilege and commitment to remember
our country’s history and work towards the goal
of equal rights and protections guaranteed
in our Constitution. The individuals and groups
we profiled here today, along with many others,
are models of courage, strength, and perseverance. Teachers, if you want to
continue to explore this topic in further develop, be sure to check out
the high school or middle school
curriculum guides for this electronic field trip
located on this webpage below. The Museum’s “Fighting for
the Right to Fight” special exhibit is traveling
all across the country. It’s currently at the Durham
Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Check the museum’s website
for more information and see if the exhibit is coming
to a location near you soon. Thank you all
for joining us today for this electronic field trip. A special thank you to our
National Park Service partners out in California for welcoming
us into your amazing parks and sharing these powerful
stories with us and students across the country. A special recognition also goes
to Betty Reid Soskin and Lieutenant Colonel
George Hardy for their inspirational messages
and testimony. Also many thanks
to our sponsors for making this
electronic field trip possible. From the National World War II
Museum in New Orleans, this is
Commander Damon Singleton and Dr. Rob Citino. Thanks for welcoming us
into your classroom on Digital Learning Day. -Thanks, Damon. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *