The demands of World War II made the U.S. army an unlikely proving-ground for social reform as it fought an openly racist dictatorship bent on world domination. Paradoxically, this war pitted America against its core traditions of racial discrimination, forcing it to acknowledge its cultural short-comings while forcing it to live-up to its democratic ideals before a global audience.
Nearly 80 years after the abolition of slavery, American society staunchly rooted in racial segregation supported by institutionalized discrimination and terror. As during the First World War, most African Americans felt military service “to make the world safe for democracy” would translate into tangible social gains in peacetime. Proud African American WWI veterans returned home to bask in the warmth of homecoming celebrations which quickly yielded to the cold reality that America would hold the color line. That was clear as witnessed by the national race wars of 1919, escalation in lynchings, the violent attacks which eliminated black communities such as Greenwood in Tulsa Oklahoma (1921) and Rosewood in Florida (1923). However regressive the intent and venal the tactics, change was in the air: African Americans remained committed to defeating Jim Crow America.
When America joined the allied forces to defeat Hitler’s Germany, the omnipresent “V” for victory was a well-known hand signal by 1942. Yet soon African Americans “began flashing a variation”. Their version formed a “V” for each hand, the Double V, one for victory over our foreign enemies the other for victory over domestic ones as explained by James G. Thompson in a letter to the editor of the black newspaper: The Pittsburgh Courier. The Double V Campaign highlighted the smoldering issues of race politics on the home-front even if the focus was abroad.
Symbolizing a new patriotic activism, the objectives of the campaign and its stakeholders was to hold America accountable in honoring its democratic ideals; its supporters reflected the collective convictions of past and present generations who concentrated their energy during the 1940s to propel the Civil Rights Movement through the 1950s and 60s, forever changing America.