Double v. Campaign: The War Against Fascism
Double v. Campaign: The War Against Fascism begun in February 1942 in the pages of the Pittsburgh Courier, the Double V Campaign—victory against oppression at home and abroad—popularized the idea that African Americans should fight and help win foreign wars against fascism and totalitarianism as part of an inextricably linked domestic struggle against racial inequality. The campaign was undertaken in the immediate wake of a January 10, 1942, National Urban League-sponsored meeting of African American leadership in New York that left some ambiguity about the nature of wholesale African American support for the World War II effort.
The black press had attempted to convince the government to treat African Americans as full citizens, but there was little change in policy and an increasing fatigue among African Americans. Black leaders, such as A. Philip Randolph, argued that blacks must have sufficient belief in the potential success of the cause of true equality in the United States to contribute optimal effort toward victory abroad. The black press urged the enlistment of black military recruits (including officers) and pushed for a desegregated military and war industry, among other specific demands.
By 1940, the Pittsburgh Courier (founded in 1910) had the largest circulation (over 125,000) among the four major African American weekly newspapers (the New York Amsterdam Star-News, the Chicago Defender, the Norfolk Journal and Guide, and the Pittsburgh Courier). By the end of the decade, that number would near 300,000. The Courier was a crucial element in organizing the African American community; in 1931, it launched a drive to collect one million signatures to demand that the Federal Radio Commission ban the offensive radio program Amos ’n Andy. (It claimed to have garnered 740,000).
At the time it launched the Double V Campaign, the Courier had twelve weekly editions that went to various parts of the United States. The reach of the Courier met the ambiguity toward the war in the black public when the paper printed a letter to the editor from James G. Thompson, a twentysix-year-old black cafeteria worker in a Kansas aircraft manufacturing plant. Thompson asked whether he should be called upon to sacrifice his life ‘‘to live half American’’ (Thompson 1942). He asked if the demand of full citizenship rights was too much in exchange for such a sacrifice. Thompson then wrote, ‘‘The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries which are fighting for victory…Let we colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies from within’’ (Thompson 1942).
On February 7, 1942, the Courier printed the double V symbol in the upper left-hand corner of its front page, with no explanation of what it was or what it was for. This was perhaps because Courier Editor-in-Chief Percival L. Prattis was painfully aware of the sensitive nature of relations between the federal government and the black press, which it was constantly surveilling for hints of unpatriotic opinion.
On February 14, Edgar T. Rouzeau of the Courier’s New York bureau published the first editorial on the Double V Campaign. The front page article stated that blacks had a stake in the outcome of World War II that, unlike whites, ‘‘has far more meaning to the progress of civilization, and proportionately is far more difficult of attainment’’ (Rouzeau 2000). The editorial contends that blacks, ‘‘exploited, delimited, segregated, and humiliated as we were’’ (Rouzeau 2000), did not have any say in the ideological conflicts that started the war. However, blacks chose to fight on behalf of ‘‘white democracy’’ as opposed to a totalitarian German state, in order ‘‘to establish precedent for a worldwide principle of free association among men of all races, creeds, and colors’’ (Rouzeau 2000).
The two wars that had to be fought and won, according to the editorial, were ‘‘the convulsive war abroad’’ and ‘‘the bloodless war’’ at home (Rouzeau 2000). The latter was to be fought in the press, in schools, in political associations, and with intelligence and awareness of the nature and rules of democracy. The final urge was for blacks to fully sacrifice, or in the alternative to return to ‘‘our old slave masters,’’ having been proven not ‘‘worthy of democracy’’ (Rouzeau 2000).
The Courier was inundated with hundreds of letters and telegrams of support and congratulations; soon other major black newspapers joined the Courier’s coverage of the rapidly spreading improvisations on the double V theme in the black community. The Amsterdam Star-News and People’s Daily Voice in New York, the Chicago Defender and the Washington Afro- American began displaying the symbol, triggering an exponential increase in black newspaper subscriberships.
The Double V Campaign triggered governmental pressure on African American editors to police their papers for criticisms of the government. Federal agents visited the aforementioned papers, accusing the Double V Campaign and select editorials of hurting the morale of black People. The editors, however, did not back down. The Courier, for example, did not ban differing voices in the community: during 1942 and 1943, articles by George Schuyler, paper President Ira F. Lewis, J.A. Rogers, and Horace Cayton, among others, drew the surveillance attention of the FBI’s Survey of Racial Conditions domestic espionage unit for being anticolonialist and for comparing Axis members fascism with American racism, among other things. Ironically, the Double V Campaign was received lukewarmly by more radical elements, including the radical white left, for not going far enough.
- Contributor, Gregory E. Carr