Malcolm X: Killing Crackers
With the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act in August 1940, all American men between the ages of 18 and 45 became liable for military service. Some Black men who had no desire to fight in the “white man’s war” used racial stereotypes to their advantage to avoid the draft. Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X, appeared before a draft board wearing his most audacious zoot suit and exaggerating his desire to join the army in order to “kill some crackers.” The draft board subsequently deemed Little “mentally disqualified for military service,” according to the history site shmoop.com.
Muhammad Ali: ‘The Real Enemy of My People Is Here’
Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title and suspended of his boxing license after he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali said. “No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Dizzy Gillespie Tells the Truth
Legendary be-bop trumpeter, musician Dizzy Gillespie said in his autobiography, “To Be or Not to Be,” that he told the World War II draft board that, for so long, “the white man’s foot has been buried in my asshole up to his knee.” Therefore, he said, he might be likely to shoot any white man he encountered — American or German.
John Hope Franklin: ‘My Country Did Not Deserve Me’
This was how historian John Hope Franklin described his attempts to volunteer for the Navy for World War II, according to PBS: “I went down to the recruiting office, the Navy and volunteered. I volunteered in response to the call that they made specifically for men to man the offices. The young recruiter for the Navy said, ‘What can you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I can run an office. I can type. I can take shorthand if that’s needed.’ I said, ‘And, oh, yes, I have a Ph.D. in history from Harvard.’ And I wondered what he was gonna say. He said, ‘You have everything but color.’ And I said, ‘Well, I thought there was an emergency, but obviously there’s not, so I bid you a good day.’ And I vowed that day that they would not get me, because they did not deserve me. If I was able — physically, mentally, every other kind of way, able and willing to serve my country — and my country turned me down on the basis of color, then my country did not deserve me. And I vowed then that they would not get me.”
Fighting ‘The Hitlers in America’
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Pittsburgh Courier columnist George Schuyler proclaimed (as described by Leon F. Litwack and Winthrop D. Jordan in The United States: Becoming a World Power, Vol. II ): ”Our war is not against Hitler in Europe but against the Hitlers in America.”
Nazis Got Better Treatment Than Black Soldiers
Even Nazi prisoners of war enjoyed more rights than Black American servicemen. German prisoners of war held in United States military bases were commonly permitted to dine with white U.S. soldiers in facilities that excluded Black U.S. soldiers. When Lena Horne performed in a southern GI camp, German prisoners of war were given front row seats while Black servicemen were relegated to the back of the theater. Horne delivered her performance in the aisles before her follow Black Americans, but, shaken by the experience, she ended her military tour.
‘Should I Sacrifice My Life to Live Half American?’
On Jan. 31, 1942, the Pittsburgh Courier published a letter to the editor from James G. Thompson of Wichita, Kansas. It was titled “Should I Sacrifice to Live ‘Half American?” In it, Thompson wrote: “Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: ‘Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?’ ‘Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow?’ ‘Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life?’ ‘Is the kind of America I know worth defending?’ ‘Will America be a true and pure democracy after this war?’ ‘Will colored Americans suffer still the indignities that have been heaped upon them in the past?’ These and other questions need answering.”