One of the greatest research challenges we faced while writing Now the Hell Will Start was the paucity of primary source material describing day-to-day life for African-American GIs. Enlisted men were discouraged from keeping diaries, literacy rates were low, and post-war archivists too often ignored black contributions to the Great Cause—an unholy trifecta for historians working today. So you can only imagine our joy upon discovering Phillip McGuire’s Taps for a Jim Crow Army, a compendium of letters that black soldiers wrote to a variety of newspapers, politicians, and African-American VIPs.
The most affecting letters are those that describe the stateside training camps, where racial tensions often boiled over into violence. One that sticks in our mind was written to the Baltimore Afro-American, by a Texas-based GI who chose to remain anonymous:
Is is “hell” in the Army and Texas. It isn’t that I am afraid to fight, but what are we fighting for? As far as I can see we will never be a free people for the simple reason a majority rules. They either rule in or out. In this respect, mostly out, because again a majority doesn’t speak up. We are supposed to be free to do as we desire, as long as we are within the law. Strange enough, we are not good enough to use the same toilets or “latrines,” to dispose of waste matter from our bodies, so you can very easy (sic) observe how much we are appreciated. If there is a “hell” we are now in it and surely after our work is finished here, heaven will be our home. God only knows how we are suffering.
Go check out the whole book. It’s an eye-opener, to be sure.