How World War II Influenced Civil Right Activism or Racial Relations

How World War II Influenced Civil Right Activism or Racial Relations

Print media sources that propagate propaganda such as posters, newspapers, stamps, and infographics, do tell people a lot about war and post-war society in the US. In this assignment, the application of primary source propagandas will be used to illustrate how World War II influenced civil rights activism or racial relations.

In the US, there was a period from 1945 to 1968 that was referred to as the second reconstruction. During this period, immediately after   World War II was ended in 1945, USA as a nation commenced its civil and human rights abuses’ correction that had existed in American society for over a century (endnote 1). The initiative for creating a nationwide change regarding civil and human rights issues was steered by; grassroots civil rights movements in addition to progressive undertakings by the president, the federal court’s consent of abolishing segregation, Congress act of giving more complete political rights for African-American as well as redressing the longstanding social and economic disparities. The major contributor to this social reformation was each American protestant who stood against segregation coupled with African-American members who were included in congressional proceeding enabling them to play significant roles in advocating for reforms in Congress. This made the unwilling Congress pass a landmark civil right bill during the 1960s. The evidence of civil rights activism or racial relations that occurred in the aftermath of WW2is depicted in the primary sources below;


The first primary source is that of a Herblock cartoon from 1949 depicting two sullen-looking presidents, Harry S. Truman, and John Q. Public, examining infested apples. The animated image represented the former president’s policies initiative of rents controls and civil rights. The worm-ridden apples labeled coalition which stood for the alliance of Republicans and the conservatives’ southern democrats who barricaded most of Truman’s initiates from being passed. The major event at that time was setting the pace for steady movement towards desegregation. The initiative was more of executive action rather than a legislative undertaking. The executive action implied that time by Truman was the establishment of the President’s committee on civil rights that carried out a provision of civil rights exponent in congress with a legislature honorable blueprint. The recommendation forwarded to Congress by the President’s committee established to support civil rights were: establishing a civil right section in the federal department of justice, ending segregation in the interstate transport system, enforcement of federal anti-lynching laws as well as the creation of permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). The Congress objected the proponents.

The second image from the library of Congress shows President Harry S. Truman issue of unprecedented executive order to desegregate the military in 1948. During WW II, the largest US employer of minority ethnics and races like black Americans, Asian descent and Mexican Americans by inducting over 1 million American males who had been registered for the pact in 1945. The African-American formed 11% of all the registrant liable for services, and they were allowed to serve in all of the branches in the army and all capacity of operations with the exemption of only Marine Corps. During the time of WW II, President Roosevelt had already appropriately addressed the issues raised against discrimination in the army and issued an executive order in June 1941. The executive order entailed directives that blacks should be included in job-training programs conducted in defense plants and proscribing discriminatory actions done by defense contractors as well as enacting the formation of FEPC.

President Harry was following suit on what his predecessor had done. He formed a President’s Commission on Civil Rights that presented a recommendation to the Congress on means and the procedural concept of equal care of US citizens civil rights. The recommendations were opposed as clearly illustrated by the latter animated images. Truman did not back off as expected after the Senate threatened him with a filibuster, but instead, he moved ahead to employ an executive power to reinstate civil rights in the US. Truman fulfilled the vision that Roosevelt had when he established the FEPC during the world wars. The executive order issued by Truman clearly denoted that “… there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” (Endnote 3)

Accompanying the executive order were other concepts that led to the establishment of advisory committee endowed with the duty to investigate the practices, procedures, and rules of the Armed Forces Services and a recommendable method to bring about the realization of the desegregation. This image clearly illustrates how the initiatives taken by Roosevelt during World War II to curb segregation in the army mitigated the action taken by Truman after the war. Truman’s civil rights activism was inspired by his predecessor’s decision during WW II.


The WW2 had effects in nearly all aspects of life in the US, and American racial relation was not immune to the influence. An image exhibiting Maj James A. Ellison reviewing first class of Tuskegee airmen demonstrates the racial relation. The photograph was taken in 1941 by a Tuskegee airman. The image describes the egoism aspect of the Tuskegee airmen who rendered a norm of African-American of continuing to serve a country that diminished their status loyally. The black Americans took their participation in the Second World War as an opportunity of improving their country and helping it to the best of their ability. One of the prominent black newspapers, The Pittsburg Corner, instilled the ideology of blacks not only fighting against the Nazis far away from their home background but also waging war against racial discrimination and inequality at home. The newspaper spearheaded the ‘Double V’ campaign and encouraged black Americans to enlist in the armed forces, participate involuntary works on the home fronts and ensure a fight against racial segregation and discrimination (endnote 2). In 1942 of February, the hallmark of racial relations was commenced by Roosevelt Executive Order 9066 that authorized the eviction of any individuals from the critical zones, i.e. the exclusion zones. The race prejudices, war hysterias that were a national norm at that time came to an abrupt end due to the issued order. Henceforth, over 30,000 Japanese were able to unite with their fellow Americans on the battlefield.

In conclusion, all the photographs/images discussed above point to the reality that World War II was the watershed event for African-American civil right activism as well as racial relation. It led to the commencement of a break with the past that informed the civil rights movements of that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. By the early 1950s, the African Americans had gained in the military sector by having freedom of job training as well as political organization. The two entries served as progress stimulus for the protests of the 1950s that later instigated civil rights sanctions. Hence, World War II had presented opportunities for African Americans to earn an equal place in America both socially and politically.




Ellwood, David W. Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America and Postwar Reconstruction. Routledge, 2014.

James Jr, Rawn. The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America’s Military. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.

Warber, Adam L. “Public Outreach, Executive Orders, and the Unilateral Presidency.” In Congress & the Presidency, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 269-288. Routledge, 2014.