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The Untaught History of American Veterans

A group of African-American soldiers in England during the Second World War.

As Du Bois put in his 1919 Crisis editorial on the subject, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.” The ugly part of American History is not fully disclosed. We only like to talk about the good parts, are what is perceived as good. In honor of all of our Veterans including those that fought for this control offshore but were ill-treated once they returned, we thought it fitting to share The Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery, Alabama's 2016 report: “Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans.” The report concludes that “no one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans.”

From the end of the Civil War to the years following World War II, thousands of African Americans were the victims of lynchings and other forms of racial terror in the United States, often in violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black communities throughout the country. The terror and violence of the lynching era profoundly impacted race relations and shaped the geographical, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today.

Lynching and racial violence fueled the migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the 20th century and created a social environment in which racial subordination and segregation was maintained for decades with limited official resistance. This violence reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed and continues to be evident in the injustice and unfairness of the administration of criminal justice in America.

Military service sparked dreams of racial equality for generations of African Americans. But most black veterans were not welcomed home and honored for their service. Instead, during the lynching era, many black veterans were targeted for mistreatment, violence, and murder because of their race and status as veterans. Indeed, black veterans risked violence simply by wearing their uniforms on American soil.

The United States condoned the racial terror and Jim Crow segregation that plagued the entire black population even as it purported to fight for freedom and democracy and against fascism and racism abroad. This report is a supplement to Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror that specifically examines the history of racial violence targeting African American veterans in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Between the end of Reconstruction and the years following World War II, thousands of black veterans were accosted, assaulted, and attacked, and many were lynched. Black veterans died at the hands of mobs and persons acting under the color of official authority; many survived near-lynchings; and countless others suffered severe assaults and social humiliation. Documenting these atrocities is vital to understanding the incongruity of our country’s professed ideals of freedom and democracy while tolerating ongoing violence against people of color within our own borders. As veteran and later civil rights leader Hosea Williams said, “I had fought in World War II, and I once was captured by the German army, and I want to tell you the Germans never were as inhumane as the state troopers of Alabama.” Continue reading

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