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Liveblogging World War II: October 29, 2010


ARMY: The Problem - TIME: From Memphis' Beale Street to Harlem's Lenox Avenue, the U. S. Negro press last week suddenly took fire. It blazed up over the Army's No. 1 social problem: what to do with Negro officers and Negro enlisted men. A War Department statement, issued fortnight ago after Franklin D. Roosevelt had talked over The Problem at the White House with Negro leaders, fanned the flames. The policy: that Negroes will get the same kind of military training as whites, but they will get it in separate Negro outfits.

Even Harlem's pro-Roosevelt Amsterdam News joined in the outraged hubbub. Jim Crow Army Hit, ran its page 1 banner over a story denouncing the Army's policy.

Charge White House Trickery, yammered the Republican Pittsburgh Courier. Roosevelt Charged With Trickery in Announcing Jim Crow Army Policy, shrilled the Kansas City Call. Along with the War Department's statement many a paper printed the demands made on President Roosevelt fortnight ago by his White House visitors: Secretary Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; President A. Philip Randolph of the Sleeping Car Porters' union; T. Arnold Hill, an assistant in the N. Y. A. Division for Negro Affairs. For the Army's solution of The Problem had brusquely rejected the pivotal demand in the Negroes' seven-part memo to the President, that "existing units of the Army and units to be established should be required to accept and select officers and enlisted personnel without regard to race."

If U. S. Negroes really expected to see the U. S. Army agree to put black and white in the same outfits on an equality basis, they reckoned on a thumping overturn of precedent. Only four Negroes have ever graduated from West Point (none from Annapolis) and today the Army has only two regular Negro line officers: Colonel Benjamin Oliver Davis, commanding officer of Harlem's 369th Coast Artillery (National Guard), and his West Pointer son, Lieut. B. O. Davis Jr., military instructor at Tuskegee Institute. Before 1940's emergency the Army had only four Negro regiments of regulars (two cavalry, two infantry); all are officered by white men. Since July 1, 17 other Negro outfits have been formed (including a regiment of engineers, one of field artillery, twelve truck companies), and some may be officered by men from the 353 Negro reserve officers now on Army lists.

In World War I, only 10% of the 404,000 Negroes drafted and enlisted for the Army saw service in overseas combat outfits. Except for a few separate regiments (like the 369th 376th 371st and 372nd). their record was undistinguished. Some Army men today think Negroes are as good fighting men as whites, but also think they will never be able to prove it until they go into action led by Negro officers, show once & for all that they do not need white leadership.

But to Negro leaders proof of that point was less important last week than establishing the equality of the races in the U. S.'s new Army. So concerned were they with the Jim Crow issue that they subordinated another point, somewhat less than frank, in the War Department's statement.