The American War against De Jure and De Facto Discrimination
Throughout the semester, we have examined the differences between de jure segregation, that which is written into law, such as slavery and Jim Crow, and de facto segregation, that which is seen as customary. Even though the battle against de jure discrimination has been a victorious one, with the desegregation of the American military and federal government in the 1940s, the reversal of Plessy vs. Ferguson in the 1950s, and the passing of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s, our country still sees an almost daily example of de facto discrimination’s stronghold on our society, with blatant racial profiling, continued residential segregation, and the 2013 decision of the Supreme Court to overturn certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
Even while African Americans were fighting for the United States during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the laws Jim Crow were still in full effect, and African Americans saw segregation within the military. As with the American Civil War and World War I before, African Americans were relegated to segregated divisions and menial positions, and even military bases, facilities, dining halls, and ships were segregated. However, some headway was made when, in 1942, the Marine Corps accepted its first black soldier, and again in 1944 with the desegregation of military training facilities (Notes on WWII).
During the 1940s, two other victories came to the fight against de jure segregation. The first was Executive Order 8802, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 and prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry and the federal government. It also established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, intended to help African Americans and other minorities obtain jobs in the defense industry during World War II. Within the 4 year span of 1940 to 1944, our country saw a 300% rise in African American manufacturing workers (Notes on WWII). The second was President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the American military in 1948. African Americans were now free to serve alongside their fellow white servicemen, which they did for the first time during the Korean War of the 1950s (Notes on WWII). Arguably the most important step towards destroying segregation as we knew it in America was the development of the modern civil rights movement. Mainly credited to the Pittsburgh Courier’s 1942 ‘Double V Campaign’, which symbolized the battle African Americans endured against both our enemies abroad and the enemies within this country. The Pittsburgh Courier urged African Americans to help in the war effort, while also calling for the federal government to help in the effort to establish equal rights for all of its citizens, regardless of race. The Double V Campaign was one of the first of its kind, a social media campaign to spread the word about equal rights during World War II (Notes on WWII). Another main catalyst for the explosion of the civil rights movement came in May of 1954. The case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was a huge victory in the fight against de jure segregation in public schools. The Supreme Court overturned the previously scrutinized decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson and the idea of “separate but equal”, unanimously deciding that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. Over 50 years later, in a speech given at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Barack Obama would explain the similarities between segregated school in the 1950s and those we see now: “Segregated schools were and are inferior schools…and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. Legalized discrimination…meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations…[explaining]...
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