Divided Arsenal

Daniel Kryder, Author Cambridge University Press $66 (320p) ISBN 978-0-521-59338-0
In a scorching scrutiny of African-Americans' wartime experience on the home front during WWII, MIT political science professor Kryder asserts that Franklin Roosevelt's administration did more to correct racial injustice than had any post-Civil War presidency. Nevertheless, charges Kryder, FDR's race policies, while appearing progressive, co-opted protest and served to maintain rather than undermine segregation, because this expedient wartime president's overriding concerns were reelection for the Democratic Party and full mobilization of industrial production. To combat widespread discrimination in defense training, in vocational programs, war-related factory production and federal contracts, FDR in 1941 established the Fair Employment Practices Committee. He also appointed a ""Black Cabinet,"" i.e., a handful of black federal appointees in key advisory roles in industry and the armed services. Yet these measures, focusing on the resolution of individual grievances, were viewed by militant African-American leaders as a mere buffer to pacify blacks rather than to fully integrate them. When black protest escalated, the army defused rebellion within the ranks--by shipping black troops overseas. But in 1943, after insurrections by mistreated black soldiers in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky and California, the War Department invented new policies to prevent or control racial disruptions. These included surveillance, desegregation of post facilities and transport vehicles, and an anti-prejudice indoctrination campaign. Yet FDR's piecemeal reforms, concludes Kryder in this illuminating scholarly study, both energized and subverted the nascent movement for racial equality, creating bureaucratic channels that acted to detour the mass agitation which, two decades later, would secure civil rights. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/01/2008
Release date: 02/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 318 pages - 978-0-521-00458-9
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