A Rising Wind


A REPORT on how America’s segregated Negro troops fare in the war zones has been due for a long time. Walter White, Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a seasoned campaigner for Negro rights, is as able a person as could be found to make it.
It is not a reassuring report, though it is not entirely pessimistic either. It is clear from Mr. White’s observation that Negroes, shunted off into predominantly service outfits and kept from combat duty, have a serious and understandable morale problem. Except in places where officers have been firm in enforcing the no-discrimination orders, they are generally kept away from mixing with white soldiers and often find the civilians of England, Africa, or Italy warned against associating with them. More often than not, where colored and white troops are billeted in a single town, the Red Cross canteens are Jim Crowed. Prejudiced white Americans have frequently interfered with the friendly contacts between Negro troops and townspeople. The result has been not only tension and trouble, but sometimes the stimulation of an active dislike of white Americans among the British, who are not inclined to adopt Jim Crow.
There are more hopeful signs: at the actual fighting fronts, where Negro and white troops have been occasionally allowed to fight together, prejudice hardly exists. Dozens of white soldiers that White talked to — among them a good many Southerners — were honestly and angrily opposed to discrimination. Once in a while protests from white servicemen stopped segregation before it got well started.
Every such incident helps to balance the timid and shortsighted policy of the Army, which, in its professional and laudable determination to get on with winning the war, has failed to do away with segregation, and hence has allowed prejudice to spread within its own ranks. It has in some instances transplanted the Jim Crow system to parts of the world where it was never seen before.
War intensifies everything, including both prejudice and the reaction against prejudice. If the officers in control of any part of the Army are inclined to admit Negroes into full participation, they do that much to make the Army democratic and the war a tremendous educative and democratizing influence on millions of servicemen.
If they don’t, if they insist on transplanting to England or Africa or Italy the caste system of Mississippi, they will transplant with it the seeds of hatred and of a catastrophic future war of color. Mr. White does not prophesy; he merely warns. A battle as important as any in this war would be won if that warning, voiced before by Wendell Willkie, Henry Wallace, Pearl Buck, and many others, could be heeded, and at once. Doubleday, Doran, $2.00.