Printer Friendly

The "Double-V" campaign in World War II Hawaii: African Americans, racial ideology, and federal power.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as the United States joined the war that had been raging for so long, the largest circulation African American newspaper in the country called for a "Double V" campaign: "Victory over our enemies at home and victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad."(1) The editor of the Pittsburgh Courier wrote: "We call upon the President and Congress to declare war on Japan and against racial prejudice in our country. Certainly we should be strong enough to whip both of them."(2) Only one of those wars would be declared. President Roosevelt and his advisors had no intention of dividing America's efforts between the war and troubling domestic social issues. In this vein, it was decided that the nation would fight its enemies with segregated armed forces. The official rationale for racial segregation had been clearly stated in 1939: "The War Department administers the laws affecting the military establishment; it cannot act outside the law, nor contrary to the will of the majority of the citizens of the Nation."(3) This official statement suggests a unity of both authority and policy that is misleading, and which obscures the complexity of racial issues during the war. During World War II the federal government (partly in the guise of the War Department) greatly expanded the reach and range of its power. In practice this meant that the federal government exercised control over all matters deemed pertinent to winning the war, reaching into people's lives and into local communities in an unprecedented manner. The possibility for uniform national policy was greater than ever before. But government agents, military or civilian, did not enforce laws and policies in a completely standard fashion. On particular issues and in specific cases, they often bowed to the weight of local (or regional) custom and tradition. Race was one of those issues. It was potentially inflammatory, politically dangerous, divisive of the American will. Thus federal policy on race was most inconsistent, played out in the complicated contexts of local desires and traditional understandings, pressured by the acts of often outraged citizens, and always subordinate to the larger aim of winning the war. During World War II the policies affecting black Americans--and thus to some extent their experiences as Americans--were shaped by the competing, overlapping, and uncertain lines of political power and social authority. Though policies might be coherently stated at a national level, the importance of local situations, of contingency, and of individual action could be enormous. Still, it was to a great extent the presence of the federal government that created the spaces in which these factors could play such important roles.(4) The struggles about race are most obvious where it seems inevitable they would be obvious--in Southern training camps. There the limits of America's promises were fully demonstrated, as the military and federal government frequently set local custom over national law. But it is also instructive to look to a less predictable example. It was in Hawaii that the meaning of divided sovereignty and local difference was perhaps most complex for black Americans. Southern training camps demonstrated the limits imposed on African Americans; Hawaii demonstrated a complicated set of possibilities. In Hawaii during the war, there was a volatile combination of extreme state power, a complex system of race relations that was not bi-polar and had no established place for African Americans, and the tensions of a war zone that had to absorb hundreds of thousands of men from the mainland, all of whom carried the cultural codes of their diverse homes. The men who came to Hawaii found it a strange place in many ways, but they also found the familiar structures of American life. This juncture of familiar and unfamiliar created in Hawaii a certain liminality. Some would use this liminal landscape to construct new paradigms of race and new possibilities for struggle as yet unexplored in mainland America. In the Territory of Hawaii, the federal government's presence was more extreme and totalizing than in any other part of the nation with the exception of Washington, D.C. For almost the duration of the war, from shortly after the surprise attack on December 7, 1941 until late in 1944, the islands were under martial law. Hawaii was in the war zone; the territory was fully governed by the needs of a wartime state. People lived under total blackout conditions; military courts held sway and habeas corpus was suspended; all correspondence was censored; there were restrictions on travel. The war was never a distant presence to the people of Hawaii. They lived in its shadow, and among the flood of men and women, well over a million service personnel and civilian employees of the military, who were brought to Hawaii by reason of war.(5) Among these men and women were approximately 30,000 people of African descent--soldiers, sailors, war workers.(6) They came to a place that, before World War II, had no "Negro Problem," in part because few people on the islands recognized that "Negroes" lived in Hawaii. In 1940, according to one estimate by the territorial government, approximately 200 "Negroes of American birth" lived on the islands. There were some other people of African descent, ethnically Puerto Rican. Census data on race and ethnicity were notoriously hard to gather on the islands, partly because there was a great deal of intermarriage between groups and partly because mainland categories did not necessarily make sense in Hawaii. In Hawaii's census data in the early 20th century, people of African descent were classified as Puerto Rican and Puerto Ricans were classified as Caucasian. Thus most of Hawaii's "Negro" population was classified as "Caucasian."(7) In 1940, no ethnic group claimed a majority in Hawaii. The largest group were people of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, who made up more than one-third of the islands' population. Caucasians were the next largest group (24.5% of total population), but "Caucasian" meant little to island residents. The more important category in Hawaii was "haole" (literally "stranger"), a term with a complicated history that by 1940 designated the relatively affluent whites of Northern European and American ancestry. Members of ethnic groups that had come to Hawaii to do plantation work, no matter how light-skinned, were not considered haoles. Thus Caucasian Portuguese and Puerto Ricans were not haoles (and were listed in census data as "other Caucasians"). Haoles made up less than 15% of the islands' population. The term "local" often designated the rest of the islands' peoples. Though the haole-local division existed, it was not a clear bi-polar racial system. The islands' population was too racially and ethnically varied, with "local" serving as an umbrella term for the Chinese (6.8%), Filipinos (12.4%), part-Hawaiians (11.8%), as well as Koreans, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians, Japanese, and the many people of mixed ethnic or racial ancestry.(8) The haole elite was self-consciously proud of race relations in Hawaii, especially in contrast to those on the mainland. To readers fifty years later, their statements generally seem self-serving, obscuring the workings of power and the existence of privilege. Samuel Wilder King, delegate from Hawaii to the U.S. Congress before the war and Governor soon after (and proudly 1/12 Hawaiian), explained the elite view of Hawaiian race relations in a 1939 magazine article, "Hawaii Has No Race Problem": Today the races of Hawaii live together as one people, owing one common allegiance to their American nationality. Racial origin means nothing to the individual in his status as an American. Among the racial groups there is mutual understanding and friendly sympathy. The spirit of Old Hawaii governs, and "race prejudice" as such is not countenanced.(9) To an extent the haole elite really believed these words. That they had systematically excluded Asian and Pacific Americans from economic power for decades, that they had done their best to keep them out of real political power, that many spoke of Asian and Pacific Americans in stereotypical and prejudicial terms, that most refused to intermingle socially with Asian Americans or the Puerto Ricans or Portuguese--all of this the haole elite found not of essential importance in their characterization of Hawaii as the land of racial and ethnic aloha. To many of the islands' peoples, Wilder's statement would have seemed ridiculous at best. Still, the claim was somewhat legitimate in the context of the United States in 1939, and in that he was describing the general sentiments of the people of Hawaii. Most people on Hawaii did not bring the racist ways of the mainland into their daily lives. They did stereotype one another: many Americans of Japanese ancestry looked down on the Chinese and often upon the haoles. The Chinese looked down on the Filipinos. Round and round it went. Each ethnic group had its suspicions of the others and definite hierarchies existed. But such prejudices were not the white heat of the mainland's rigid caste society. The lines were less absolute, the barriers more permeable. It helped that no one group held a majority. For whatever reasons, local people in Hawaii (as well as many of the haole elite) did not by World War II manifest the depth of racist thinking that was essentially taken for granted on the mainland. As many on the islands claimed, Hawaii was much more progressive on the issue of race than the rest of the United States. The men and women who came to Hawaii from the mainland were uniformly shocked by what they found. On the streets of Honolulu or in small towns on the Big Island, "white"ness was not the natural condition. Of course, it wasn't in North Africa either--but North Africa was not America; it was not, by implication, home. All newcomers were surprised, but reactions varied. Some praised what they saw as unprecedented racial equality; others were mightily upset by it; still others just confused. Very few of the mainlanders, white or black, really understood the complexities of Hawaii's racial system. But no one could come to Hawaii and not notice race. The issue of race suffused wartime Hawaii. It could not be avoided. Writing home in private letters to family and friends, wives and sweethearts, black men who had come to Hawaii as servicemen or war workers discussed the possibilities of Hawaii's wartime racial liminality. A shipyard worker wrote: "I thank God often for letting me experience the occasion to spend a part of my life in a part of the world where one can be respected and live as a free man should." Another young man tried to explain to his girlfriend: "Honey, it's just as much difference between over here and down there as it is between night and day." He concluded: Hawaii "will make anybody change their minds about living down there." "Down there" was the Jim Crow South, the place about which a third man wrote, "I shall never go back...."(10) White men and women from the mainland also saw the possible implications of Hawaii's racial landscape: "They have come as near to solving the race problem as any place in the world," wrote a nurse. "I'm a little mystified by it as yet but it doesn't bother anyone who has lived here awhile." A teacher found it world shaking: "I have gained here at least the impulse to fight racial bigotry and boogeyism. My soul has been stretched here and my notion of civilization and Americanism broadened."(11) Not everyone was so inspired. One hardened soul, in Hawaii with her husband and children, wrote the folks: "Down here they have let down the standards, there does not seem to be any race hatred, there is not even any race distinction ... I don't want to expose our children too long to these conditions."(12) A white man wrote home: "Imagine that the South will have some trouble ahead when all these black bastards return. Over here they're on the equal with everyone and I mean they live highly. They're in paradise and no fooling."(13) Others made it clear they did not believe the trouble would keep: "Boy the niggers are sure in their glory over here ... they almost expect white people to step off the streets and let them walk by.... They are going to overstep their bounds a little too far one of these days and these boys from the South are going to have a little necktie party."(14) If Hawaii was "Paradise," as the glossy travel posters had claimed in the days before war had covered its beaches with barbed wire, there was a snake in this paradise, too: "As you know," one man wrote back to the mainland, "most sailors are from Texas and the South. There are most[ly] Navy men here, and they have surely poisoned everyone against the Negro ... with tales of Negroes carrying dreadful diseases, being thieves, murderers and downright no good."(15) Just a few months after the first black war workers arrived, only weeks after the first black troops had come to the islands, a black war worker wrote his wife: I've told you before perhaps of this inter-racial conflict and how each little incident was adding a little more fuel. Well ... it seems that it's becoming a roaring inferno. And if I die, I want you to know that I went down fighting, with a prayer on my lips and your memory in my heart, fighting to break down those racial hatreds and prejudices.(16) If Hawaii was a place of eye-opening possibilities for some African Americans, it was also a place in which racial struggle would become a necessity. Prefiguring the wars for public opinion fought by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, also against a backdrop of increasing federal intervention, both blacks and whites during the war tried to gain the support of Hawaii's diverse peoples. It is crucial that the struggles over race took place within a sphere of military (and thus federal) authority. The military, not local government or the courts or even the U.S. Congress, was the main arbiter of social justice, law, and order in the islands. And virtually all the men and women from the mainland worked for the military--whether as military personnel or civilian employees. How the military chose to enforce its rules and regulations helped determine who won and who lost certain rights and privileges. Some black Americans in Hawaii would demand that the military command choose sides in their struggle for respect and justice. They asserted that rank and not race, regulation and not custom, should structure relations between black and white servicemen. The responses of Hawaii's people and of military authorities illustrate the complexities of the role of the State and the importance of local conditions in the process of social change in mid-20th century America. The African American men who came to Hawaii (a very few black women war workers came to Hawaii, and then only late in the war) were a far from homogeneous group. In most ways they were almost as diverse a group as their white counterparts--though far more of the African Americans had had poor schooling, came from rural areas of the deep South, and had been denied specialized civilian and military training.(17) When it came to their attitudes about and responses to white racism and their responses to racist practices, the most significant divide was between blacks from the rural South and those from the urban North. A poll taken on the mainland showed that 7 of 10 Northern blacks though segregation should be attacked during the war-time crisis. Only one in ten Southern blacks agreed.(18) They lived with fear learned from experience. Some Northern blacks, while not unaware of the dangers, had never before confronted them firsthand. Others simply refused, no matter the consequences, to accept the violations against human dignity that too often were ignored or quietly sanctioned by military authority.(19) Leading the charge against racism and toward a re-casting of the meaning of race in Hawaii were the men of the 369th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment--"The Harlem Hellfighters." The 369th was an elite New York National Guard unit that had been federalized for the war effort. In 1941, it was one of the very few all-black regiments: officers, as well as enlisted men.(20) The 369th was also a beloved community institution, based in the heart of Harlem, its armory overlooking the Harlem River at 142nd Street. While all five boroughs of New York City as well as some Southern states were represented by the approximately 1,800 men who would travel to Hawaii with the 369th, the core of the group came from a ten block radius within Harlem.(21) The history of the 369th, as most of the men in the regiment knew, was immediately important in the debates over racial policy in World War II. During World War I the 369th, attached to the French army, had fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the siege of Sechault. Their courage under fire had been exemplary and the French government awarded the Croix de Guerre to the 369th regimental colors and to over 150 of the men. When they returned from "over there" at war's end, all of New York, white and black, had turned out to pay their respects as the regiment marched down Fifth Avenue. The demonstrated courage of the 369th was highly publicized, and stood in contrast to much being written and said about the performance of black troops in World War I. An article in The Outlook argued that the performance of the 369th Infantry, "characterized by some as" possessing black skins, white souls and red blood,' ought to silence for all time the slanderous charge that Negroes are cowards and will not fight...."(22) But criticisms persisted, and they had some basis in reality. In general, black troops had not performed especially well. They had been insufficiently trained and often badly led by unsympathetic or hostile white officers (one Southern white officer thought it appropriate to introduce himself to his men with the information that he had "suckled black mammies' breasts"). They lacked basic equipment, and morale suffered from discriminatory policies (unlike the white troops, they were prohibited from most contact with French civilians). A higher percentage of black soldiers than white were uneducated or illiterate. The explanations for failures abound; in that light the successes are the more remarkable.(23) Many were, however, perfectly willing to attribute the failures to racial inferiority: Negroes would never make good combat soldiers, for they lacked both the intelligence and the discipline necessary. Major General Robert Bullard, the World War I commander of the Second Army (in which blacks had served as the 92nd Division), wrote in his memoirs, which he published in 1925: "Poor Negroes! They are hopelessly inferior." There was, however, an even more chilling message for those who sought equality. Drawing on diary entries from the war, Bullard mused: "If you need combat soldiers, especially if you need them in a hurry, don't put your time upon Negroes.... If racial uplift or racial equality is your purpose, that is another matter."(24) Going into World War II, the Army's policy toward the employment of black troops was predicated on the "lessons" learned in World War I. The goal of the Army, or of any other branch of the armed forces, was not racial uplift--it was mounting a successful fighting force as quickly and efficiently as possible. And coming into World War II, using black troops clearly presented problems. Racial tensions tended to flare when blacks and whites were in close proximity. Moreover, Army Intelligence, G-2, argued against sending black troops just about anywhere beyond the mainland U.S., for the presence of blacks might create or exacerbate local racial tensions. The United States was not the only Allied nation with a race problem. Throughout the colonized world of America's allies, black troops might create political trouble.(25) Perhaps most important, the army found blacks ill-prepared for military life. Black men scored very badly on the Army General Classification Test (AGCT) and the Mechanical Aptitude Test, which were devised to use in assigning men to units; the AGCT was intended to measure the level of skill and ability attained to the point of testing by the inductee and "how ready [he is] to pick up soldiering--how likely [he is] to learn easily the facts, skills and techniques necessary for carrying out Army duties."(26) Scores were closely related to educational and cultural background, so it is perhaps not surprising that 49.2% of black inductees fell into the lowest quintile of the AGCT (compared to 8.5% of whites), and that 83.9% of blacks scored in the bottom 2 quintiles. (Test scores were meant to form a bell curve, and did for white troops.) The vast majority of blacks inducted into the army were unskilled, many illiterate. Officers found that it generally took two times as long to train a "black unit" as a "white unit."(27) Proponents of black combat forces during the World War II mobilization had a hard argument to make. Given the potential for disruptive racial tensions, even violence; given the poor promise indicated by AGCT scores--what evidence could they offer? Here, the 369th's actions in World War I were compelling evidence against racist charges that blacks were constitutionally, inherently, racially, poor soldiers. One of the most outspoken white champions of black soldiers during World War II was Hamilton Fish, Jr., the fiercely anti-New Deal, conservative Republican congressman from New York, who had been a company commander with the 369th during the Great War.(28) As the debate raged, in January 1941 the 369th was federalized in an early phase in the war buildup. Very purposefully, the Army command slated the 369th for anti-aircraft artillery training, a form of training that would keep its champions satisfied, but which would also minimize its integration into large scale combat operations with white soldiers.(29) Still, the end result was that the men of the 369th would become highly skilled combat soldiers with all attendant rights and status. The 369th was sent to Oswego, New York for training.(30) The experiences of the 369th preparatory to their taking up positions on Hawaii as coast artillery units shaped what was to come, enforcing and maturing their beliefs in the need for a "Double V" campaign. Their experiences also demonstrate the confusions white Americans felt when confronting the 369th's dual status as black men who happened to be combat soldiers and as combat soldiers who happened to be black men. At Camp Ontario, the men became expert at handling the anti-aircraft weaponry they had been assigned. Lieutenant Woodruff would be able to tell the white press, with no brag, that the men, "they're dead eyes ... and I don't mean with the galloping dominoes." White anti-aircraft artillery officers agreed: "They were crackerjack at parade and weapons."(31) In almost a year's time the 369th, under black officers' command (though two white artillery officers had been assigned to the unit as advisors during the training), had been transformed from young men in Harlem playing soldier on the week-ends to professional warriors.

Outside of Harlem, the issue of race became more immediate for the 369th. Oswego was, in the words of one member of the 369th, "lily white." Black troops, dependent upon the town for all their non-military needs, provoked some concerns at first, but relations were smooth overall until, in the winter of 1941 a white woman brought charges of rape against a black man. The whole unit was lined up; all the men were inspected for "evidence." The men believed the charges unfounded--the desperate act of a woman who had been caught breaking the taboo against interracial sex. In any case, they believed their rights had been violated in the blanket line-up. They read the Amsterdam News and knew about the treatment of other black troops. They were highly conscious that they were a special combat unit and meant to be treated with respect. Angry and outraged at what they saw as racial politics, the 369th boycotted the town of Oswego. Many of the men of the 369th remembered the "don't shop where you can't work" campaigns that Reverend Adam Clayton Powell had led in Harlem in the mid-Thirties. Some, no more than boys then, had marched in the picket lines. The unit's "race men" talked strategy, and the officers backed up their men. Vehicles were provided so the men could take their business to other towns. Eventually New York Governor Lehmann, in part in response to the concerns of Oswego merchants, mediated the conflict. The charges were dropped. The 369th had won.(32) This mixed legacy--both the line-up and the victory--were an important part of the training of the 369th. The 369th's encounters with the "lily white" town of Oswego underlined the changing status of at least some African Americans in the United States during World War II. In this confrontation no clear "cultural script" (to borrow a phrase from Victor Turner) directed the players. Instead citizens and soldiers relied (to continue borrowing from Turner) on bits and pieces of cross cutting and even contradictory bits of cultural "debris" to structure their almost ritualistic performances: white police investigate "sex crime" by lining up all black men for inspection--combat soldiers scorn and reject civilian oversight--black combat soldiers boycott white civilian merchants. As combat soldiers, the men of the 369th could call on the State to support them, even as they called on their Harlem days to provide them with both the confidence and the method to resist what they understood as racist harassment. The 369th, caught between worlds and identities, had used that uncertain and flexible status successfully.(33) The 369th was supposed to go home after a year's training. But a little more than a month before their hitch was up, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A few months later they were sent to defend the Southern California coast and American race relations took another odd turn. The 369th was ordered to set up their anti-aircraft guns in the backyards of some of the wealthiest white people in America, including a few of Hollywood's biggest stars. There, in the midst of elaborately coiffed lawns and landscaped gardens, twelve black troopers set up their tents in each yard and settled in for who knew how long. Some residents were appalled by the Army-style integration of Burbank, California. William De Fossett, Regimental Sergeant Major of the 369th, remembers hearing someone complain: "We've never had negroes living here and now they're in our backyards with those horrible guns." The men thought the comments funny, particularly since some prominent members of the community--stars like Humphrey Bogart and Rosalind Russell--welcomed their defenders. Bogart told a group of the men they were welcome to use his house and gave them the keys to show he meant it. And black celebrities like Lena Horne, Leigh Whipper, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Hattie McDaniel came around to visit the troops.(34) In Burbank, as in Oswego, the flexible identity of the 369th was emphasized. Their racial identity was, in the military command's eyes, subordinated to their role as coast artillery, anti-aircraft combat soldiers. The treatment they received from white and black Hollywood stars strengthened their sense of themselves as elite black soldiers. For almost a year, the 369th had trained in Oswego for cold weather duty. They'd been issued snow boots and huge woolen union suits. So, as Army logic dictated, after a few weeks of sunny California, the 369th were loaded into a troop ship in San Diego and zig-zagged their way to Honolulu Harbor. They came to Hawaii's liminal racial landscape with their morale strong and their commitment to a double victory only strengthened by a year in the Army. The 369th was to be in charge of defending Hawaii from air attack. Ironically, though, as the 369th were transported to their initial base camp on the little sugar cane railroad, people reacted to them as if they were some kind of invading force. People ran away, frightened of the train full of black men. It didn't take long to figure out what had happened. Local people had been repeatedly warned by white soldiers and sailors from the South that blacks were, literally, dangerous animals. Local women, in particular, refused to have social relations with African American men.(35) Ernest Golden, a war worker at Pearl Harbor, remembers that women would never sit next to him--or any other black man--on buses: They had been told by the Southerners, I think [they] were sort of establishing [their] foothold--that, first of all, Blacks were not to be trusted. [They] went so far as to say that Blacks had tails and if they had a baby, the baby would be a monkey and all that sort of garbage, you know. So ... you'd get on the bus and sit down and she would make sure that she just got up and left. She just wouldn't let you sit next to her.(36) By the time the 369th arrived in Hawaii in the summer of '42, the tail story had gained great credibility in Hawaii. It was almost funny, except the men couldn't help but notice that people kept peering behind them, looking for the tails. One story, perhaps apocryphal but widely circulated among the black men on Oahu, shows the power of the tail calumny. A small group of men were invited to a social gathering with a group of local people. It was very pleasant, but a couple of the men thought it odd that all of the chairs to which the black men were steered had pillows on them. When one of the men began to sit down on a chair without a pillow, the host ran over and flung a pillow under the descending soldier. The punch line, of course, was that the hosts believed black men had tails. The chairs were hard. They were trying to be nice.(37) All over the island, especially to young women, the 369th explained the situation, that the tail business was a racist lie and that the rest was too. How could it be true, they sighed, that black men made monkey babies? But often enough the explanation left a residue of uncertainty--so the men offered physical proof. At the beginning of their stay, says a man who was there, the 369th "dropped drawers all over Hawaii" as people looked for the tails.(38) In letters home, black servicemen fumed about the spread of racial hatred: There are a great many Southerners here that seem to think we Negroes have no place here of a right in the sun. They preach to the natives a nasty, poisonous doctrine that we must fight like hell to overcome. They tell the natives that we are ignorant dumb, evil, rapers, and trouble makers. They have the native women to a point they are afraid to even speak to our Negro boys.(39) The most extreme metaphors of "Negro" inferiority had been deployed to convince local people that African Americans, even if they wore American uniforms, were not real American men. Racists, too, saw the liminality of racial identity in Hawaii. The African-American servicemen and war workers were a new population to fit into Hawaii's "rainbow" (as some liked to call it). The responses of local people to the black malihini (newcomers) were complex and somewhat unpredictable. Although some sociologists at the time speculated that the local population would not accept "negroes" readily because discrimination against them was a way to "satisfy their desire for a feeling of superiority in status; of being identified with the dominant group," that assumption was too simple.(40) In fact, local men often lent their support to blacks against whites. Perhaps not oddly, many of the confrontations between white and black took place in the buses bringing men from Hotel Street back to Pearl Harbor before the nightly curfew, buses in which Jim Crow back-of-the-bus seating arrangements were not allowed by military order. In the jammed buses, with people hanging out the windows, people of all colors jostling one another, sometimes white men with too much liquor in them would start a fight. War worker Ernest Golden watched it happen again and again and again: The funny thing about it, at this time, the relationship between the local people, local men and the Black men was close.... There was what you would call an empathy from the local people as to what the black people had endured. They sort of, I guess, sympathized with us to a degree.(41) This sympathy had a direct impact on the conflicts. If a fight started, the local bus driver, says Golden, "would hold the buses, hold the doors as long as the blacks were winning, he'd keep the doors closed and then he'd drop, just let them off when they got to the bus stop, when everything was over, he'd open the doors and let the blacks disappear. They were on our side.... "(42) This is not to say that the propaganda of African-American inferiority had no effect. In letters out of the islands, the language of prejudice appears again and again. Local women wrote frequently of their fears. "I am very scared of these Negro soldiers here in Honolulu. They make my skin shrivel and my self afraid to go near them," wrote a Chinese girl. A young Japanese woman wrote in almost identical terms: "They are so big and dark.... Seeing them around while I'm alone gives me the 'goose-flesh.'"(43) Another Japanese woman was a little more reflective about her feelings. After sharing a perfectly uneventful bus ride with four black soldiers she wrote a friend: "Gee, I was very frightened.... Funny isn't it how I am about them. One would be that way after hearing lots of nasty things about them."(44) Racist notions and fears had been introduced with a purpose, but they were not transmitted in a vacuum. Women's fears were given some small credence by real events. Some black men, mostly the least educated men from poor, rural backgrounds, pursued local women in a rough manner. One women complained to a friend, "We are scared to go [swimming] always because some plenty soldiers. They go under water and grab our legs.... The white soldiers no make any kin[e] but the Blacks Whoo. They follow us that's why we always have to go."(45) But a general suspicion of "negroes" worked to make fairly innocuous events seem vaguely threatening. A sociology student at the University of Hawaii recorded a story that circulated in the plantation community of Kahuku, Oahu: A "Negro ... walked into a girl's house while she was playing the piano and sat down to listen. The other occupants in the house were speechless with fright. Everyone looked at him as an intruder, but said nothing to him. He returned a few days later and asked the girl to play the piano."(46) What really seemed to frighten local people--local women, especially--were the stories of rape. Very few cases of violent stranger rape involving mainland men were reported during the war. They number probably fewer than a dozen. But of those rapes, a disproportionate number were committed by black men.(47) The stories of these rapes spread rapidly through local communities, the grisly details embellished in the retelling. One rape by a black soldier became through word of mouth "quite a lot of raping cases ... the colored soldiers are causing quite a lot of trouble here."(48) Military censors found that attitudes toward black men shifted dramatically after a brutal rape and murder occurred in Maui, so much so that they claimed "the Negro problem ... became a major factor in creating poor morale among Island residents."(49) Though stories of rape by white servicemen or war workers did not make local people afraid of all whites, stories of rape by black men seemed to confirm ugly suspicions. The criminality of a tiny few was being laid off on them all. Many "haole" men from the mainland had carefully prepared "local" people in Hawaii for "negro" atrocities. Seemingly, it only took the slightest bit of evidence of actual misbehavior to make mainland racism seem convincing to many on Hawaii. Some local women recognized the unfairness of local fears. One young woman of Japanese ancestry, writing in a private letter, criticized her peers: "They are going to have a dance for colored boys ... only 18 girls are willing to go--such cooperation. Imagine us here talking about color equality and when it comes to those things not enough cooperation. I sure would like to have gone to it ... but you know Mother."(50) But despite the sympathetic interest of a few (including one woman who declared the "colored boys" to be "better dancers, ... more polite, and cleaner"(51)) many local women stayed somewhat suspicious of the African American servicemen and war workers. USO dances were segregated--between black and white troops--during the first part of the war, until the USO opened the integrated "Rainbow Club." Organizers found it difficult to round up enough women volunteers for the dances for "colored" servicemen.(52) One USO representative wrote in clear distress: "We used to ... permit them on the floor with all the others, but the girls, even oriental girls and Hawaiians walked off the floor."(53) In a later compromise move, "Negro soldiers" were allowed to attend "regular" dances, but only on condition they brought (USO supplied) partners to the dances and did not attempt to dance with any other women.(54) This is scarcely true racial equality, though such policies resulted from an interplay of local prejudices and the established practices of the mainland-based U.S.O., and not simply from Hawaii's hypocrisy. While color lines did exist, many men found the racial barriers less rigid than those they knew at home, and more than a few dated or even married local women, including women who more or less accurately fell into the classification of "Caucasian." Despite these limits, in Hawaii's complex ordering of race and, significantly, within the clear ordering of the military, men of the 369th found--or took--a certain freedom. They claimed equality and respect, and they made sure they received it. The troubles they found with white servicemen were to be handled differently, partly because they took place within the rigid structure of military life. The American armed forces understood, quite clearly, that racist practices were incompatible with military procedures, and that is one reason that the African American troops were either segregated away from white troops or kept completely in the lowest ranks of the service. Once black men became officers in an integrated armed forces they would have command over white men. Military hierarchy thus took precedence over racial hierarchy. That inversion, most believed, would certainly cause problems--and it did. War conditions in overcrowded Honolulu made issues of hierarchy unavoidable. And members of the 369th did not want to avoid the issues, but to settle them by whatever means were necessary. Thus some of the most memorable social confrontations of the war years took place on the streets of Honolulu, in the charged atmosphere of Honolulu's vice district, known throughout the Pacific theater as "Hotel Street."(55) There the protocol of the street assumed great significance, and there the street wise men from Harlem felt less off balance than most. Within the district, where the sense of otherness was palpable and violence too close to the surface, the issue of who moves for whom--and why--was of fundamental importance. One Chinese American man who lived in the district (which was also Honolulu's Chinatown) and worked at Pearl Harbor, says he asserted control of his streets by refusing to see the men who flooded the district. He says he lowered his head--and not in humility--when he walked down the street. He says he never spoke to a single mainland soldier or sailor in Chinatown. He says he does not remember seeing a single one of their faces. G.I.'s frequently complained that they sometimes felt invisible in Hawaii, and they weren't just imagining things. Yet few mainland soldiers would make--or even recognize--power plays of such indirection.(56) From their first liberties in Honolulu the men of the 369th faced a much more direct challenge.(57) The scene was often the densely packed sidewalks of the Hotel Street district, with thousands of men in uniform squirming through the long lines, the sidewalk concessionaires, and the darting importuning of hundreds of hustlers. From a distance, the men would watch as a group of white sailors or soldiers sauntered down the sidewalks toward them. And then, right in their faces, there would be the words, the same words every time: "Nigger, get off the street!" And when the black men did not move: "Nigger, don't you know you're supposed to get off the street!" In the first few months, the 369th faced this set piece again and again--Southern street protocol played out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But there were some very important differences. The first difference was the 369th. According to William De Fossett, regimental sergeant major of the 369th, a black soldier would punch the man who spoke those words. It didn't often take many punches, but he would make sure the man went down--and down hard. "We were raised in New York," De Fossett says. "We were not strangers to street fighting." At least two white servicemen died in these confrontations. One struck his head as he dropped from a punch--some said on a fire hydrant, others said he hit the curb. Another collapsed during a fist fight; later his death was attributed to an aneurism or other natural cause not directly related to the fight. Here, though, was the second difference between the routines of the deep South and the realities of war-time Hawaii. In the deep South in the early 1940s, a black man who killed a white man over a question of racial protocol would be lucky to see the inside of a jail cell.(58) But in war-time Hawaii, both Wentworth Morris and Preston Daniels, the black servicemen involved, were cleared of all charges in military hearings. That decision sent a message as powerful as the individual street fights. A black man's right to self-defense was formally endorsed by the standards of military justice. The 369th made sure that the word got around. They intended to be treated with respect and they had shown they were able to enforce their wishes. While street incidents were never banished, the 369th had proved a point. The Military Police got to know the 369th and reckoned that the black soldiers "did not seek trouble but...never backed up from trouble."(59) Some members of other black units in the islands sought protection in the mystique of the 369th. They wrote home, talking about the exploits of the 369th and their own angry feelings about racial discrimination being "brought here by the white man." But black soldiers in Hawaii did not just talk about the 369th, they emulated them, sometimes literally. Many members of the quartermasters corps, for example, when on pass, replaced their blue trimmed caps with the red-trimmed caps worn by the coast artillery. The caps served as a sort of insurance of respect on the street. Within a few months (at least as the 369th saw it) most of the black troops on the island, while on pass, walked the streets in the red trimmed caps of the Harlem Hellfighters.(60) For white and black Southerners, street protocol was a loaded issue; it was a very public, everyday way in which racial hierarchy was played out and reinforced in Southern towns and cities. The 369th, acting on their own, had changed the rules of the game. And the MP's and military justice had affirmed the stance of the 369th. Military protocol was also on the side of the black troops as the battle continued. Southern servicemen in Hawaii who had attempted to enforce their traditional race protocol of the streets had lost. They could try to save face by studiously ignoring the black faces they encountered on the streets and acting as if the black troops were simply beneath notice. But there was a problem with this tactic. Rank had to be observed. In the United States Army, enlisted men saluted officers, lower ranking officers saluted higher ranking officers. Little to no wriggle room existed in the system. To fail to salute your superior was to be in breach of regulations and to be in line for disciplinary proceedings. For many Southern whites, raised to regard black men with feelings that narrowly ranged from vicious contempt to patronizing amusement, the intersection of military protocol and race protocol created a conundrum. In one Southern training camp, a young private believed himself to have come up with the correct solution, and explained his logic to a black lieutenant: "If you would take your clothes off and lay them on the ground I would salute them but I won't salute anything that looks like you." Because the camp where this gross insult occurred was largely governed by local racial customs and commanded by Southern officers, the private essentially got away with his defiance of Army regulations. The black lieutenant who had reported this breach and asked his white superiors to discipline the private found himself transferred out as a trouble maker.(61) In Hawaii, the conundrum was similar, the proposed solution novel, and the outcome altogether different. A plan was hatched. It's not clear whether it was literally a coordinated plot or just somebody's bright idea that swept through a group of junior officers. The scene was so bizarre that the officers of the 369th were, at first, taken by surprise. It happened on the streets of Honolulu, at Schofield Barracks, or anywhere that a certain kind of junior white officer could not avoid a black officer of superior rank. The white junior officer would start running. He'd run not away from the black officer but right up to him and start shaking the black officer's hand while chattering brightly, "Hello, hello, how are you," as if the men were old acquaintances, even friends. And then he'd walk smartly away. The white men were mocking the system. Perhaps they assumed the black officers would be so pleased by the show of friendship that they would forget the breach of decorum. The white officers were willing to feign intimacy, even make physical contact, rather than have to salute a black man as their superior. It was so unexpected that it did, briefly, work. It worked until a junior grade lieutenant tried the routine on Major Edward I. Marshall, the Battalion Adjutant of the 369th. Major Marshall was a stern, commanding, even intimidating presence. He was not amused by the insolence. Major Marshall did not argue, he did not complain. Military style, in full fury, he exercised his authority: "Do not shake my hand. I don't like you and you don't like me. But I am a Major!!! You are a lieutenant!!! Salute me!!!!" He raged at the rigid junior officer. The lieutenant, in silence, complied with the order. Sgt. De Fossett watched from beginning to end with glee, finally breaking out in laughter as the dismissed white officer scuttled off. De Fossett made sure the rest of the 369th heard about what happened. Word must have reached the rest of the hand-shakers as well; no more incidents of insubordination of this variety were witnessed in Hawaii.(62) Major Marshall had commanded respect and he got it. Military protocol had been enforced by a black man answering to his own confident sense of twinned duty. But in Hawaii, Marshall and the other men of the 369th were not operating in isolation. Just as they had enemies, they had allies. Most importantly, the military governor of Hawaii, Lt. General Emmons, was on their side. Racism, Emmons correctly observed, was in Hawaii an inefficient system for maintaining the order he saw as critical to the war effort. Critically, local and territorial government officials and elites raised no objections to Emmon's anti-racist policies.(63) On November 6, 1942, a few months after the 369th arrived in Hawaii, Emmons issued a confidential memo to each commanding general and all commanding officers of every post, camp, station, depot, district and service command in the Hawaiian Islands. Emmons was angry over the increasing "instances of interracial conflict in the city of Honolulu." He wanted the incidents stopped and he laid the blame squarely on white shoulders. "The fact that such incidents have occurred indicates a lack of proper training, instruction, and discipline on the part of the personnel involved, and of the officers under whom they are serving," Emmons stated. He ordered all commissioned officers to "adopt every possible means to eliminate the causes for any racial discord" and by their example "inculcate a spirit of harmony and unity among the personnel of their various commands," insisting: It is of the utmost importance that our ranks present a united front in the present emergency and that racial prejudice, jealousies, and discord be not permitted to create or foster internal friction. The reasons for the total elimination of such friction are so apparent and so compelling that they require no reiteration.(64) The reasons "so apparent and so compelling" were not ideals of equality, but the practical matter of winning the war. Emmons wanted all hands pulling in the same direction. Emmon's call for racial calm was played out unpredictably. As might be expected, given the conflicting cultural codes that governed the construction of race and race relations, his order was a kind of racial Rorschach test for his subordinates. Officers could--and did--interpret it in a variety of ways. The editors of the Midpacifican, the official enlisted man's Army newspaper, seemed to understand the order as a call for more understanding between the races. Prior to the order, the Midpacifican had not been exactly a paragon of racial enlightenment. In one of the first issues of the newspaper after the Pearl Harbor attack, the editors printed a gratuitous cartoon of a white man stepping into a cab (a horse and buggy) and telling the black driver that he wants to go to a "haberdasher." The cabby answers: "Now look a-here boss, I be'en drivin' in dis town twenty years and I an't neber giv' nonbody away yit. Now you jus' tell dis niggar whar't is you wanter go."(65) Not untypical race humor of the time. After the order, the paper's approach to African Americans took a decided change. The 369th was featured in a moony story (the paper's typical style for stories about Army units) that declared: "Their record on duty has been termed 'excellent.'" And in the next issue the editors elected to do a major profile of the 369th's Olympic champion Lt. John Woodruff, who had been on the islands, unpublicized, for many months. No more racist jokes were printed in the Midpacifican. Instead the Army newspaper became, not unsubtly, a steady instrument for racial progress.(66) At the Pearl Harbor Shipyard and other Pearl Harbor work and housing areas, where thousands of black civilians and service personnel were stationed during the war, Emmons's orders seemed to have little concrete effect. It was at the shipyard and at the naval cantonment that housed many of the Pearl Harbor war workers that blacks and whites mixed most regularly. The shipyard and the cantonment, more than any other places in Hawaii, reflected the contradictions and confusions of official government race policy. Housing for the shipyard workers was segregated. The barbershops were segregated. But the mess halls, the theaters, the commissary, and all other public facilities were integrated. Mainland blacks and whites worked together alongside local people of color. Civilian workers, regardless of race, were supposed to be offered the same opportunities for advancement, though black naval personnel were restricted to low ranking duties. The mixed policy and the mixed enforcement of rules and regulations governing fair and equal employment and fair and equal treatment heightened racial tensions throughout the Naval cantonment and Shipyard.(67) A good many white Southerners could not believe that they were expected to mix with black men and they were furious over the government's call for fair and equal treatment. They also realized they had limited leeway in fighting back. "I am in a place where niggers are treated just like they are in 'Yankey' land," wrote a war worker, "and I am so damn burned up with the S.O.B. that the first one that looks cross-eyed at me, after I cross the Mason-Dixon line, well I won't say what will happen to him." Another man from the same work section added, "The government is sending a lot of them out here and giving them all the privileges of a white man ... we are going to have a war with the Negro[e]s when this one is over right in the States."(68) Black men at the shipyard and other Pearl Harbor work areas did enjoy the relative freedoms the Navy provided. As one man observed delicately about life in the cantonment: "I do wish some of the poor trash or crackers in the South could give a look. They would realize that the Negro does not want to socialize or fraternize with them but want equal rights to enjoy some of that freedom that they talk about every time we pledge our legence [sic] to this great flag." But other men also noted that while Navy policies were a decided improvement over what they had known at home, big problems remained and rankled. A well educated black man tried to explain to Naval Intelligence Officers the frustrations that burned at the men: I have no hesitation in saying that there is discrimination against the colored boys and they know it. The first point of discrimination is in the service. We have many boys at the Cantonment who were anxious to join the Navy. Many are intelligent and cooperative. They couldn't get commissions ... at best they become chief bandsmen or messmen ... their skin inhibits their opportunities. How many Negro leading men are there in the Navy Yard? The paucity indicates they are either inferior in ability or else they are discriminated against. I can't help but feel that the latter factor is at least partially an explanation.(69) The Chief Master-at-Arms of a Navy Base Company agreed that the Navy's larger discriminatory practices put his black sailors on constant edge: "The boys are not getting what they were promised. Many of the seamen are capable of doing electrical or mechanical work and yet are still doing stevedoring.... This complaint is pretty general and it is the biggest cause of dissension which exists here. It causes dissatisfaction continually."(70) A number of white men at the shipyards and other Pearl Harbor commands directed a steady drumbeat of racist remarks, insults and slights towards their black co-workers and fellow sailors. Black men, angry over the short ceiling put on their ambitions by formal Navy policy and the fairly constant informal and unpunished discrimination, were easily made to boil over. Between mid-1942 and 1945 dozens of fracases occurred between blacks and whites, including four small riots. The Navy, while constantly investigating race relations in the Navy Yard and elsewhere, and even accepting by late in 1943 that African Americans employed there rightfully felt discriminated against, did relatively little to defuse the situation.(71) General Emmon's order, which in part had been precipitated by a June 1942 racial confrontation at the Naval Cantonment, did little except encourage the investigations of the Navy's District Intelligence Office. The District Intelligence Office (DIO) of the Pearl Harbor Naval District ran in a somewhat predictable direction with Emmon's orders. Counter-intelligence officers of the DIO began to crackdown on what they considered subversive materials responsible for agitating black servicemen and war workers. As a first strike, operatives swooped down on the University of Hawaii library and removed all copies of the Crisis, the official organ of the NAACP, which they had "found to contain inflammatory matter."(72) The Counter-Intelligence efforts did not come out of the blue. Naval intelligence had long ranked "Negroes" as a primary suspect group of "Subversives," right after the "Japanese." Portending post-war concerns, the number one target of military intelligence operatives was "Communists"--even though the United States and the Soviet Union were wartime allies. Not unreasonably, if given their premises, Hawaii counter-intelligence operatives' greatest fear was a meeting of the minds among all their leading "subversive" groups--Communists, Japanese, and Negroes. According to the DIO, African Americans were not by definition, nature, or historical circumstances subversive. What made "Negroes" subversive was their anger over racism. One might move from that analysis to calls for racial equality, but the DIO argued another point. Race agitation led to racial conflict which led to a weakening of the American war effort. Thus, by DIO standards, fighting racism during the war was subversive (a dubious logic other intelligence and national security agencies maintained throughout the 1950s and 1960s Cold War era). Naval District Intelligence officers did not agree with the spirit of Emmons' general directive that military commanders were somehow responsible for having allowed their men to engage in racial conflict. At first, counter-intelligence operatives were positive that "subversives"--communists or Japanese or perhaps Japanese communists--were responsible for African Americans "agitation" against racism. The International-Communists-are-behind-it approach to African American struggles against racism would be most famously championed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the post-war years.(73) Some members of the 369th unintentionally managed to get themselves into the middle of this intelligence muddle. A few weeks after Emmons' anti-race conflict memo, post office censors intercepted a letter, dated December 16, 1942, from a Japanese-American member of the Communist party in Honolulu to the mainland. The letter highlighted Communist Party efforts to proselytize members of the 369th. It was almost too much--the black men charged by the Army with defending Hawaii were being opportuned by Japanese communists! Of course, the letter was not exactly proof of treason. If anything it was a little silly, a variant on the American Communist Party's official romantic approach to black people: "I secretly hoped that our visitors would be from New York and they were! The boys were the finest lads, splendid physical specimens, handsome, conversant, gracious...." It seemed that a small group of Communists, of various ethnic backgrounds, was hard at work inviting black servicemen and sailors to social occasions which generally featured cookies and cakes and low key politicizing.(74) For the next several months, intelligence officers managed to track the relationship between the CPers and their targets. August 31, 1943, after much official concern, the intelligence agent in charge of the operation informed his superiors that, as far as he could tell, members of the 369th and other black servicemen enjoyed the cakes and cookies but had little to no interest in the politics. The 369th's chaplain, Robert Doakes, though an outspoken opponent of racism in the military and on the mainland, candidly informed intelligence officers that while he was sympathetic to the Communist Party's approach to American race relations he believed that the Party was just "using Negroes" and that he told the troopers as much. The Communist Party, Japanese members included, reported counter-intelligence, was having no impact on black men in Hawaii.(75) While "enemy activity" and "communist inspiration" were the explanations the DIO preferred, "agitation directed by the mainland" was another contender.(76) Without a doubt, black servicemen and warworkers did relish news and information from an African American perspective. Two Pearl Harbor workers had managed to get an irregular line on distributing the Pittsburgh Courier. Just after the Japanese attack, and for most of the war years, they sold 1,000 copies of every issue that reached the islands. If they had more papers, they believed, they could have sold them all.(77) Naval Intelligence officers despised and feared the black press. In a well distributed confidential memo, Intelligence agents characterized the four major black newspapers as "Communist ... in a marked degree" and asserted that "hatred is their principal stock in trade." In sum, they warned, "treatment by the Negro press of much of the news about the Negroes in the armed forces constitutes, it is believed, sabotage of morale."(78) Outside agitation, communist influence, Japanese involvement, all these notions counter-intelligence seriously investigated throughout the war as the major causes of African American anger over the racism they encountered in Hawaii. No proof of such outside forces was ever uncovered. At the same time, some of the men in Hawaii did seek a more organized form for their racial struggles. Shortly before Christmas of 1944, Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, came to Hawaii as part of his tour of the war zone. He was greeted enthusiastically by a group of 250 men and women, most of them service personnel. White was speaking to the group, in part, about their desire to charter a chapter of the NAACP in Honolulu. A few months earlier, 105 people had sent in membership applications and a note saying they hoped to have 500 members in Honolulu by time they were chartered. Walter White gave the group two messages. At his public talk, he reminded the servicemen to obey their officers, noting that "the high command of the armed forces are determined not to permit racial discrimination." Later, in a private meeting attended by an agent of Naval Intelligence, White recounted many acts of racial discrimination in the armed forces he had witnessed or been made aware of. His message seemed clear: black men and women would have to push the government to live up to its limited promises of racial fairness and justice.(79) At least a couple of hundred black men and women thought organized resistance in Hawaii to the imported racism of mainland America had become necessary. In particular, they meant to fight the creeping spread of racial exclusion at downtown restaurants, nightclubs and dance halls.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Farber, David
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:10395
Previous Article:Illegal operations: women, doctors, and abortion, 1886-1939.
Next Article:Clandestine marriage in the Scottish cities 1660-1780.
Topics:


Related Articles
"Looking at One's Self Through the Eyes of Others": W. E. B. Du Bois's Photographs for the 1900 Paris Exposition.
Should the U.S. Pay for Slavery?
40 acres and a mortgage: why home ownership is key to achieving racial equality.
African-American Baptists and World War II.
Transgressing race and community in Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go.
Between Civil Rights and Black Power in the Gateway City: the Action Committee to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION), 1964-75.
The racial divide: campaign finance.
Color lines and party lines: race and politics in 2004.
Montford Point Marines.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters