African Americans in World War Ii

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For many African Americans, the war offered an opportunity to get out of the cycle of crushing rural poverty. Black joined the military in large numbers, escaping a decade of Depression and tenant farming in the South and Midwest. Yet, like the rest of America in the 1940s, the armed forces were segregated. The Army accepted black enlistees but created separate black infantry regiments and assigned white commanders to them. Of the more than 2.5 million African Americans who registered for the draft in WWII, about 900,000 served in the Army. But about only 50,000 African Americans were allowed to serve in combat. African-American soldiers and civilians fought a two-front battle during World War II. There was the enemy overseas, and also the battle against prejudice at home. "Soldiers were fighting the world's worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world's most segregated army," says historian Stephen Ambrose. "The irony did not go unnoticed." As the U.S. government called for volunteers to the Army and defense industries at the onset of World War II, thousands of African Americans came forward, but were not given the opportunity to serve in the same manner as white soldiers. As they had been in World War I, black soldiers were relegated to service units supervised by white officers, often working as cargo handlers or cooks. After much urging from the NAACP, in 1941 the War Department formed the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) to train a small group of pilots. They trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, and became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The group flew important supply and service missions in North Africa and Europe beginning in 1943. The Tuskegee Airmen were assigned to North Africa and later to Italy. They flew 200 bomber escort missions over Southern Europe without allowing a single bomber to be shot down by enemy fighters. Their longest mission took them over Berlin where they encountered at least eight of the...
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