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The negro soldier (1944), propaganda and mobilising African Americans in World War Two

The negro soldier (1944), propaganda and mobilising African Americans in World War Two

Dawson, Andrew (2008) The negro soldier (1944), propaganda and mobilising African Americans in World War Two. [Teaching Resource] (Unpublished)

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In early 1944 the United States army showed a new training film, The Negro Soldier, to all black recruits. The military, as well as other sections of government were concerned about the lack of African American’s commitment to the war effort. This film, which eulogized black achievement and patriotism, past and present, intended to remedy the situation. Blacks, or Negroes, to use the language of the day, had good reason to feel aggrieved: in the South, where the vast majority lived, they could not vote in elections, and were confined to separate and inferior facilities in public parks, theatres, transport, health and education. Such a system of racial segregation was known as Jim Crow. Indeed, because the armed forces were segregated, black recruits saw The Negro Soldier in all-black theatres, in all-black military units throughout the United States.

The army’s goal in showing the training film was straight forwardly propagandistic in that it wanted to persuade African-American soldiers that their patriotic duty lay in defeating the enemy. We need to ask: how effective was this film in overcoming black soldiers’ hostility to life in uniform? While, as we shall see, there is a shortage of reliable evidence to answer this question, one group that effusively welcomed the film was the black middle class. With the support of the film makers, and from within the military, they persuaded the army to show the film to white soldiers and the civilian population.

Interpreting the meaning and intention of The Negro Soldier cannot be based solely on a reading of a film made so long ago and in another political and social context than our own. To establish meaning and intention we need to closely examine the key groups in the drama of the film’s production: an oppressed African American community in the process of rapid change stimulated by the Great Migration northward and World War Two, a black middle class growing in self confidence with its own political agenda, the military with its desire to root out rebellion within its ranks, and the film makers it hired who were skilled in the art of persuasion. But, before examining them in detail, we need to be clearer what we mean by propaganda.

Film's title: The Negro Soldier
Duration: 38 mins 45 secs
Date: 1944
Collection: Imperial War Museum (films)

Item Type: Teaching Resource
Uncontrolled Keywords: United States, Armed forces, World War Two, Propaganda, African Americans
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Communications & Creative Arts
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > History Research Group
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:11

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