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Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965

Negroes in the higher categories


Air Corps, like the Armor and the Artillery branches, was able to form separate squadrons or battalions for black troops, but the Infantry and Cavalry found it difficult to organize the growing number of separate black battalions and regiments. The creation of black divisions was the obvious solution, although this arrangement would run counter to current practice, which was based in part on the Army's experience with the 92d Division in World War I. Convinced of the poor performance of that unit in 1918, the War Department had decided in the 1920's not to form any more black divisions. The regiment would serve as the basic black unit, and from time to time these regiments would be employed as organic elements of divisions whose other regiments and units would be white. In keeping with this decision, the black 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments were combined in October (p. 031) 1940 with white regiments to form the 2d Cavalry Division.

Before World War II most black leaders had agreed with the Army's opposition to all-black divisions, but for different reasons. They considered that such divisions only served to strengthen the segregation pattern they so opposed. In the early weeks of the war a conference of black editors, including Walter White, pressed for the creation of an experimental integrated division of volunteers. White argued that such a unit would lift black morale, "have a tremendous psychological effect upon white America," and

refute the enemy's charge that "the United States talks about democracy but practices racial discrimination and segregation."[2-28] The NAACP organized a popular movement in support of the idea, which was endorsed by many important individuals and organizations.[2-29] Yet this experiment was unacceptable to the Army. Ignoring its experience with all-volunteer paratroopers and other special units, the War Department declared that the volunteer system was "an ineffective and dangerous" method of raising combat units. Admitting that the integrated division might be an encouraging gesture toward certain minorities, General Marshall added that "the urgency of the present military situation necessitates our using tested and proved methods of procedure, and using them with all haste."[2-30]

[Footnote 2-28: Ltr, Walter White to Gen Marshall, 22 Dec 41, AG 291.21 (12-22-41).]

[Footnote 2-29: See C-279, 2, Volunteer Division Folder, NAACP Collection, Manuscripts Division, LC.]

[Footnote 2-30: Ltr, CofS to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 16 Feb 42, OCS 20602-254.]

Even though it rejected the idea of a volunteer, integrated division, the Army staff reviewed in the fall of 1942 a proposal for the assignment of some black recruits to white units. The Organization-Mobilization Group of G-3, headed by Col. Edwin W. Chamberlain, argued that the Army General Classification Test scores proved that black soldiers in groups were less useful to the Army than white soldiers in groups. It was a waste of manpower, funds, and equipment, therefore, to organize the increasingly large numbers of black recruits into segregated units. Not only was such organization wasteful, but segregation "aggravated if not caused in its entirety" the racial friction that was already plaguing the Army. To avoid both the waste and the strife, Chamberlain recommended that the Army halt the activation of additional black units and integrate black recruits in the low-score categories, IV and V, into white units in the ratio of one black to nine whites. The black recruits would be used as cooks, orderlies, and drivers, and in other jobs which required only the minimum basic training and which made up 10 to 20 percent of those in the average unit. Negroes in the higher categories, I through III, would be assigned to existing black units where they could be expected to improve the performance of those units. Chamberlain defended his plan against possible charges of discrimination by pointing out that the Negroes would be assigned wholly on the basis of native capacity, not race, and that this plan would increase the opportunities for Negroes to participate in the war effort. To those who objected on the grounds that the proposal meant racial integration, Chamberlain replied that there was no more integration involved than in "the (p. 032) employment of Negroes as servants in a white household."[2-31]

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