TeachNYPL: World War II and the Double V Campaign (Gr. 10-12)

By Felice Piggott
November 12, 2013

"The Pittsburgh Courier drew its inspiration for the Double V campaign from a letter by James G. Thompson of Wichita, Kansas, published in the January 31, 1942 issue. Thompson, in his letter titled 'Should I Sacrifice to Live 'Half American?',' advocated for a 'double VV' for a dual victory over enemies to the country and enemies—opposed to equality, justice, and democracy—at home. In its next issue, on February 7, the Courier displayed Double V drawings emphasizing the theme 'Democracy, At Home, Abroad.' The paper announced the Double V campaign the next week, declaring its support for the defeat of totalitarianism abroad and inequality at home" (Dan J. Puckett "Double V Campaign" in African American Experience)

The Pittsburg Courier's Double V Campaign swept the nation – the African-American sections of the nation that is – so much so that there were Double V baseball games, Double V Gardens, Double V Beauty Pageants, pictures of Double V Girls in the daily papers, a Double V hairstyle (the "Doubler"), Double V fashions and accessories, Double V dances, Double V bands, and Double V songs (such as 'A Yankee Doodle Tan The Double 'V Song' as discussed in The Songs That Fought The War by John Bush Jones).

Double V Clubs gathered items to send to soldiers overseas, met with businessmen about nondiscriminatory hiring practices, sold war bonds, wrote Congressmen to protest poll taxes, and even conducted demonstrations. The Double V Campaign became a symbol of pride for Black Americans during a time when Jim Crows laws were prevalent and so many of the rights that soldiers fought for abroad were denied them at home.

'Awaken America with your cry for a 'Double Victory!' the campaign materials, songs, and more from The Pittsburgh Courier June 13, 1942 p. 14

'Awaken America with your cry for a 'Double Victory!' the campaign materials, songs, and more from The Pittsburgh Courier June 13, 1942 p. 14

The Double V Campaign is often overlooked or relegated to a footnote in U.S. History, but it is a time when Black women on the home front subverted traditional gender roles to become social activists, and the beginnings of a larger civil rights movement can be seen. For, even though the Double V Campaign was a point of pride for many, some in the white establishment viewed it as "a war against our enemies abroad -- and the whites at home" and as "endangering the war effort." Even J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the F.B.I. tried to stifle the Black Press and shut down the Double V Campaign as sedition and treasonous ('Treason?' transcription from The Black Press Soldiers Without Swords)

The New York City Social Studies Scope & Sequence asks teachers to address the impact of WWII on African-American communities; the contributions of African-Americans; as well as the role of women. To address these questions in a common core-aligned Social Studies unit, we have collected the following resources for students in grades 10-12 to read and examine - including primary and secondary sources of the era, first person and secondary accounts, fiction, and informational texts. In particular this collection of texts asks the following questions:

Captain in the WAAC,[African American Charity Adams, First Officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, standing in uniform and pointing to a poster that reads,

Charity Adams, First Officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), Digital ID 1260343, NYPL

The war's impact on minorities:

  • How did the war affect African-American communities?
  • How did the African-American homefront contribute to America's war effort?

What was the 'Double V' campaign?

  • Who created and promoted the Double V campaign?
  • What injustices did the Double V campaign bring to light during WWII?
  • What did the Double V campaign accomplish?
  • How did the Double V campaign serve as a catalyst for the civil rights movement?

Experiences of the men and women in military service:

  • How did America react to the attack on Pearl Harbor?
  • How did the war affect the role of women?

Classroom Reading:

Printed Primary and Secondary Source Texts:

To start, all students can read The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War IIby Michael Cooper, which contains good information (and photos) on the Double V Campaign and the problems black servicemen faced in their fight for a double victory.

Students can then access articles from the Pittsburgh Couriervia the NYPL ProQuest Historical African American Newspapers database for primary source information; however, image quality in many of the articles is poor.

Close reading of the excerpted chapter "The Double V Campaign" from Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II (pp. 257-314) by Maureen Honey (editor) should also be assigned and discussed. The chapter includes primary and secondary source materials such as poetry, letters to the editor, essays, advertisements, stories, and photographs from the period.

Media Clips:

Students can then examine media clips from the period including the African-American Troop Training video clip from Ken Burns' The War (from Episode Three: A Deadly Calling, November 1943-June 1944) and The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, a film by Stanley Nelson. If time allows, screening the entire film is preferred as it relates the story of the rise and fall of the Black Press and its role in creating the Double V Campaign. Otherwise, screen the essential section titled 'Treason?' which compares the disparate coverage of the mainstream press and the Black press concerning the contributions of African Americans during WWII. This section revisits the nearly forgotten 'Double V' campaign spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Courier that linked the struggle against fascism abroad to segregation at home, and nearly resulted in Black publishers being indicted for sedition. There is a study guide to the film available online (via PBS), and the articles titled Treason and Pittsburgh Courier (with accompanying questions) should be used with students after viewing.

Oral Histories:

Students can then listen to the Oral Histories of Ray Elliot - 1939-1945: "Two Wars to Win" and other WWII veterans in Fighting for the Double V: Memories of Six African American Veterans of World War II (Historical Society of Berks County). Questions to consider as they listen to these oral histories: WWII is often remembered as a time in which Americans came together to work for a common cause - what do Ray Elliot's and the other veterans' statements reveal about the accuracy or inaccuracy of this statement? Students should provide three examples from oral history testimonial as evidence to support their opinions.

Political Cartoons:

Finally, students can examine selected political cartoons from Dr. Seuss Goes To War The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel via the printed resource (also available online through the UC San Diego Library's site). While looking at the cartoons students should consider: what is the main message of each cartoon? what event, issue, or person does the cartoon refer to or target? is the cartoon trying to persuade or inform? who is the audience and what is the intended message to them? what devices are used by Dr. Seuss (artistically, text placement, etc.) to get this message across?

Selected cartoons include:

  1. "Listen, maestro...if you want to get real harmony, use the black keys as well as the white!" (June 30, 1942)
  2. "The old run-around" (June 26, 1942)
  3. "Hey, you talent scouts, give a look down!" (June 8, 1942)

Common Core State Standards for this Texts and Task Unit

History/Social Studies: Reading History

RH.10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

RH.10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

RH.10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

RH.10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

History/Social Studies: Writing

WHST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

WHST.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

WHST.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

WHST.11-­‐12.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

WHST.11-­‐12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

WHST.11-­‐12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.

WHST.11-­‐12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Want to use these texts in the Classroom?

The above documents and texts are compiled in NYPL Classroom Connections Texts & Tasks Unit - for Common Core Lesson Plans: The World War II Double V Campaign. This Texts and Task unit can be used for lesson planning or to supplement and enhance current lessons. This Texts and Tasks Unit includes information on text complexity, text dependent questions, and recommended performance tasks for a Common Core State Standards-aligned Social Studies unit.

 Texts & Tasks Unit for Common Core lesson planning (click to view downloadable PDF)

The Double Victory Campaign during World War II: Texts & Tasks Unit for Common Core lesson planning (click to view downloadable PDF)

Further Reading:

Primary Sources

Taps For A Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II Edited by Phillip McGuire. A powerful collection of letters from Black soldiers during WWII documenting their disillusionment with the treatment they received and the segregation they experienced.

One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC by Charity Adams Earley (Major Charity Adams Early was the commander of the only all-black Women's Army Corps unit (The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – "No Mail, No Morale") to serve overseas during World War II. Her memoir recounts her wartime story optimistically. For grades 9 and up.)

Lawrence D. Reddick World War II Project mixed material collection at the Schomburg Library. The collection consists of correspondence with black servicemen and women, summaries of interviews Reddick conducted, as well as research files maintained by him. Only available on site at the NYPL Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Secondary Sources:

Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach. In five chapters devoted to War Workers, Volunteers, Political Activists, Entertainers and In The Military the stories of the African-American women who worked in these fields are revealed. Includes primary source photos from the time period as well as first hand accounts (Grades 7 and up)

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rightsby Steve Sheinkin (Pub date Jan 2014). The story of the massive explosion that rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California on July 17, 1944 killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9, 1944, hundreds of men refused to go back to work until unsafe conditions were addressed; however, instead of addressing these concerns, 50 African-American sailors were charged with mutiny for their perceived insubordinate actions. Includes first hand accounts from the sailors and their families. A compelling, convoluted, and cached historical account (Grades 5 and up)

The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military by Rawn James, Jr. Written by the son and grandson of African American military veterans, this text traces the legal, political, and moral campaign for equality that led to Harry Truman's 1948 desegregation of the U.S. military, documenting the contributions of black troops since the American Revolutionary War and their efforts to counter racism on the fields and on military bases (Grades 9 and up)

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Bolden. They became America's first black paratroopers. Why was their story never told? Sibert Medalist Tanya Lee Stone reveals the history of the Triple Nickles during World War II including their role fighting against attacks perpetrated on the American West by the Japanese during World War II (Grades 5 and up).

Additional Resources:

Related Topics and Ideas for Further Research (click to view downloadable PDF)

Related Topics and Ideas for Further Research (click to view downloadable PDF)

Book and Resource List: Extended Reading & Research List for Double V Campaign (Gr. 7 and up): includes all of the resources above as well as additional library resources to teach the Double V Campaign for wider audience of Grades 7 and up including historical fiction (Invasion! by Walter Dean Meyers, and Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis), additional media clips, secondary sources, lesson plans for teaching, and more.

Photographs: Search the NYPL Digital Collections for photographs of African Americans during World War II

War Posters: Powers of Persuasion: The Poster Art of WWII 'United We Win' from the National Archives. 'United We Win' focuses on the war efforts to encourage participation by African-Americans and to promote the achievements of African-American servicemen and women - such as the boxer Joe Louis who voluntarily enlisted on January 7, 1942; though he never saw active duty he played a large part in the media recruitment campaign for African-Americans. His military poster, 'Private Joe Louis says...we're going to do our part and we'll win because we're on God's side' was an influentical wartime image.

Please feel free to add additional reading suggestions, lesson plans, and other educational resources in the comments below.

Felice Piggott teaches at The Young Women's Leadership School, East Harlem (TYWLS EH), a single-sex, 6th-12th grade school. She teaches Information Technology/Literacy, Filmmaking and Advisory classes, as well as maintaining the Library. She gets a kick out of referring to herself in the third person.