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African American Workers: Conflict on the Homefront

In this lesson students analyze a propaganda poster, a photograph, and a poem to understand the tensions unleashed by the entry of African Americans into the industrial workforce during World War II.

Objectives

  • Students will describe the tensions and conflicts caused by the entry of African American workers into the industrial workforce during World War II.

  • Students will analyze government efforts to address racial tensions during World War II.

  • Students will interpret a poem about African-American perspectives of World War II.  

Instructions

Step 1: Handout Beaumont photograph without description (showing title and source only) with focus questions on back. Have students work independently or in groups to analyze the photograph and answer the questions. 

Step 2: Have students share out what they observed and what hypotheses they have about what's going on in the photo. Then hand out (or show) the Beaumont photo with the description.

  • How does the description further expand the story of what's happening in the photo?  

  • Can students explain how this photo shows cause (segregation patterns among black and white workers led to racial tensions and violence) and effect (the black workers, though segregated, were able to get jobs because of the high demand for wartime workers)?

Step 3: Pass out the "United We Win" poster, the poem "Beaumont to Detroit, 1943," and the analysis worksheets. Have students work independently or in groups to answer the questions. When students are finished, have them share their responses. Lead students in discussion of the causes and effects of race riots during World War II.  

Historical Context

The overwhelming need for workers during World War II meant that factories were, for the first time, willing to hire black workers in skilled and high-paying jobs. Industrial jobs motivated African Americans to move in search of economic opportunity: thousands moved out of the rural South into urban areas to work in shipyards, ammunition factories, or aircraft plants. However, their new white co-workers and neighbors resented the change in the status of Jim Crow. Black migrants encountered prejudice, discrimination and sometimes violence. Such tensions spilled over into race riots throughout 1943, including one in Beaumont, Texas in which nearly 4,000 white citizens terrorized Beaumont's black neighborhoods. Black businesses and homes were pillaged and destroyed, over fifty people sustained injuries, and at least three people-one white, two black-were killed in the violence.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “African American Workers: Conflict on the Homefront,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1337.

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