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"The Double V" and "The Slaves' Gamble"

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Bigotry and false hope mark "Double V," which begins with World War I. Back then, even a supposedly color-blind draft left African-Americans in the lurch when Southern communities conspired to make sure blacks got picked first. The reason? They wanted to get rid of them.

Filled with patriotism, despite their oppression here at home, black men fought overseas and were often heroic. The military paid them back by failing to promote them to officer status, placing many of them in menial positions, and ordering the French to not "spoil" black soldiers.

(The French thought that was bonkers and did no such thing. They referred to black soldiers as les enfants perdus, the lost children, because their army abandoned them. Other nations weren't so welcoming: During the early years of World War II, countries from Australia to Iceland objected to having black soldiers on their land.)

Blacks, according to many of the those in charge of the American military over the first half of the 20th century, were weak, "peculiarly qualified" for manual labor, and bad for morale if they mingled with whites.

For better and for worse, African-Americans didn't suffer their humiliation in some sort of saintly silence, although one Navy messman told a reporter that "you've got to know your place at all times." Black leaders and the black press eloquently and persistently pushed for equality. But in Houston during World War I, black soldiers murdered 15 whites in a massacre amid fury over policeman's vicious mistreatment of two blacks. "We are all human," wrote one African-American newspaper, reflecting a sense among some blacks that the killers had their reasons.

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