Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II

Exhibit on view: September 8, 2020 - January 8, 2021

The National World War II Museum’s traveling exhibition, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II, features artifacts, photographs and oral histories to highlight some of the extraordinary achievements and challenges of African Americans during World War II, both overseas and on the Home Front.

A national advisory committee, including the late Dr. Clement Alexander Price of Rutgers University, was commissioned to help frame the exhibition. The committee, led by co-chairs Dr. John Morrow of the University of Georgia and Claudine Brown of the Smithsonian Institution, helped advise on the exhibition’s narrative arc and content.

In the years before World War II, African Americans in many parts of the country were treated as second-class citizens. Discriminatory practices were condoned by the government, and African Americans were systematically denied many rights and liberties by laws that kept them in positions of inferiority. Due to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896, the United States was a nation where “separate but equal” was law in many states. In addition, many military leaders declared African Americans unfit to serve in combat. However, once the war began, thousands rushed to enlist, determined to fight for freedom, while still being denied equality at home.

Fighting for the Right to Fight explores the hope for securing equality that inspired many to enlist, the discouraging reality of the segregated non-combat roles given to black recruits, and the continuing fight for “Double Victory”—triumph over both the Axis powers and the prejudices at home—that laid the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII was produced by The National World War II Museum.

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