Friday, July 27, 2012

Tuskegee Airmen, Jim Crow Laws & A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph got black pilots trained for World War II combat in the Tuskegee Airmen program during the era of Jim Crow laws.

A. Philip Randolph Eleanor Roosevelt
A. Philip Randolph
Eleanor Roosevelt
A. Philip Randolph was labeled the most dangerous black man in America because of his ability to organize people around a cause like the Tuskegee Airmen. If anyone could pull off black pilots in the U.S. military, it would be A. Philip Randolph and his partner in the venture, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was known to influence her husband, Franklin Roosevelt in matters of race and human rights.

A. Philip Randolph burst onto the scene before Martin Luther King and furnished fuel for the establishment of the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Born in 1889 in Florida just at the beginning of the official Jim Crow era, Randolph by his teen years was already heavily involved in civil rights, using his voice and speaking abilities learned as an actor and singer. As a journalist and founder of a magazine, Randolph honed the skills he needed to become a leader for social causes.

An articulate and persuasive personality and speaker with experience in leadership, he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. Black men who held railway porter jobs were considered well employed during the era of Jim Crow laws. However, Randolph saw these jobs as incomplete with a union to protect them. After organizing the union, he served as President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters from 1929 until 1968. These impressive credentials gave him the clout to appeal to Eleanor Roosevelt for assistance in getting his black pilots program off the ground as well as other causes dealing with unfair jobs and military contract accessibility to people of color.

During WWII, A. Philip Randolph protested segregated of U.S. armed forces and employment discrimination in defense industries. His protest threatened to bring thousands of blacks to march on Washington DC to end segregation in defense industries in 1941. Randolph's threats and activities got the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became persuaded by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to consider that America was ready for a training program for black pilots at Tuskegee. The threat of a March prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, "no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." 

The Committee on Fair Employment Practices was established to handle discrimination complaints of those fighting in the Jim Crow Army, a topic well documented by many black men and women and other nonwhite service men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Men like my own father and uncles served in this army during WWII and were not allowed out of the military kitchens and, in some cases, not allowed to handle real weapons, only mock guns that were not intended to shoot real bullets. My father had sour feelings about the way the Army treated him, especially before the forces left the United States. In southern training facilities, servicemen were not allowed to go into towns during their time off in fear of the local community that these black servicemen would come into contact with the community's white women. "There was a white army and a black army," my said. "The one had the duty of serving the other, no different than it was in jobs here at home."

Maycie Herrington Tuskegee Airmen Historian
Maycie Herrington
Tuskegee Airmen Historian

A. Philip Randolph proposed a March on Washington before Martin Luther King.

Randolph's threatened March on Washington and other civil rights activities helped in the establishment of the African American fighter pilots program as part of the Army Air Force at a segregated base located in Tuskegee, Alabama that would train the Tuskegee Airman

Maycie Herrington began chronicling the history of the Tuskegee Airmen when she was a civilian clerk at the U.S. Army Air Base during the WWII training of America's first black pilots. This was during the days of Jim Crow laws when African American pilot training had been prohibited. the Tuskegee black pilot training, which began as an experiment, promoted by A. Philip Randolph, changed the course of WWII and the course of United States civil rights history. 

Hundreds of black pilots were trained at Tuskegee to see action in WWII. Maycie Herrington collected stories, photographs and documents, which she has shared with the world ever since.

In Tuskegee Airmen History, Macy Herrington wrote her account of the Tuskegee Airmen, published by the Tuskegee Airmen, Los Angeles Chapter. Herrington was part of the civilian support staff at Tuskegee when the black pilots were in training and has spent most of her adult life documenting the WWII project. 

Tuskegee Airmen, Jim Crow Laws and Black Pilots

Maycie Herrington's biography is included in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, profiles of African American Women who made a difference to the history of Long Beach, California. 

Maycie Herrington Tuskegee Institute WWII
Maycie Herrington
Tuskegee Institute WWII
Maycie Herrington wrote: Efforts to have Negroes become a part of the Army Air Corp began in the late 1930's with the combined efforts of such men as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, The Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper, Roy Wilkins, Charles Hill, Robert Vann and Arnold Hill. These men were determined that Negroes in the military would not be treated the same as they were in World War I.

In the spring of 1941 after calling to get the Air Force to accept Negroes for pilot training, A. Philip Randolph went to the White House with what he called a proposal, but in President Roosevelt's eyes, it was viewed as a threat. Randolph said to Roosevelt in his booming voice, "there has to be a fair employment practice commission, with the power to investigate discrimination in government agencies and in companies working under government contracts, in order to ensure equal employment for Negroes in both. Randolph realized it would be difficult to get congressional approval but felt that President Roosevelt could create a temporary commission by executive order. To stress the important of this demand, Randolph said he would bring a hundred thousand Negroes to Washington on July 1, 1941 for a massive protest march.

A. Philip Randolph and and his struggle to get the Tuskegee Airmen set the stage for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King's Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Woolworth Sit-ins.

Maycie Herrington said, “A. Philip Randolph included a demand for the immediate designation of centers where Negroes would be trained for work in all branches of the aviation corp. He said it was not enough to only train (black) pilots. In addition, navigators, bombardiers, gunners, radiomen and mechanics must be trained in order to facilitate full Negro participation in the air service.

A. Philip Randolph was a civil rights leader of the mid-20th century, beginning in the 1920-30s. He is credited for shaping, the guide that was used in the 1950s-60s by the Martin Luther King to shape his I Have A Dream message. This monumental book about Randolph by Cornelius Bynum covers his protest career, from the organization of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a black rail union, to threatening a march on Washington as early as 1941.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Chinese-American West

One must explore immigration laws of California and other western American states to see full wonders of western territories--natural and racial colors.

Great Fountain Geyser. Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone
Great Fountain Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
Photo; National Geographic
When I was a little girl, my mother introduced me to the wonders of the American West. She had a sister who had moved to Denver and a brother who had moved to Northern California in the 1940s to avoid Jim Crow laws. 

My mother and I visited many Colorado, California and other western resorts, parks and reservations when I was young to witness in person the beauty of the land and people and to experience freedom we were denied at home. 

My early education formed a disturbing picture on our visits to beaches, mountains, indigenous people and immigrants.

Until my mother and I began to travel, I simply wondered about and accepted their facial features and listened to the stories of people in the neighborhood who knew the truth. Traveling and learning about Asian ethnic groups revealed a hidden history of the American West.

Most Americans do not realize the integral role Chinese immigrant laborers played in building Yosemite National Park. Many of these workers were former workmen on California railroad and levee systems that had been completed in the state. Below is a video that documents their participation in the building of the park. Chinese immigrants took this work after completing other projects in American development and then experiencing severe discrimination.

The film was researched, narrated and produced 
by Yosemite National Park Ranger Yenyen Chan 
for the National  Parks Service.

Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years
In the 1870s through the early 1900s, Chinese were lynched in Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, California and other western states in an effort to rid the West of the race. Yellowstone National Park was established as the first park protected by the United States government in 1872. The same decade that the United States established its national park system, Chinatown in Denver was raided by a racist mob after hearing a rumor that a Chinese had killed a white man.

The World Rushed In: 
The California Gold Rush Experience
News of the discovery in 1849 in the foothills of northern California's Sierra Nevada Mountains traveled to all points around the world rapidly. The California Gold Rush attracted non-Native American gold diggers, pioneers and immigrants, including thousands of Chinese indentured servants in search of a new life crowded onto ships headed to California to take part in the claiming of the rich mineral claimsCompetition in the mining business was fierce among the untamed mod of gold diggers and murders, producing an atmosphere of violence and fear. Lynching of Chinese miners and other ethnic groups increased to discourage their participation and to steal their claims.

Interracial Encounters: 
Reciprocal Representations 
in African and Asian American 
Literatures, 1896-1937
It was during our travels that I learned the deep cultural connections between African and Asian Americans that began during the 19th century. Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937 explores literary relationships and similarities between the experiences of Asian and African characters during history.

Chinese immigrants in Hop Alley between Blake and Market Streets were beaten and lynched in an effort to rid the state of that race. The Rocky Mountain News (Denver) reported that homes were burned, businesses were looted and Chinese were killed by more than 3,000 anti-Chinese rioters, which reportedly included Irishmen, African Americans and other races, yelling “Stamp out the yellow plague.” The mob dragged a man named Look Young down 19th Street; according to a doctor, Young died “from compression of the brain, caused by being beaten and kicked.

Washington Historical Society
Tacoma, Washington, 1892

Racial tensions and Jim Crow legislation affecting Chinese and other groups were prevalent in many parts of the West as in the rest of the rest of the nation, in areas that one would not have expected to find racism and discrimination in housing, employment, education, public transportation, landownership and other aspects of daily life. The sign to the right was an announcement of a Tacoma, Washington, meeting concerning the expiration of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882  

Although beatings, murder and lynching on the Western Frontier did involve former slaves and their descendants, much of this violence was not limited to African Americans and Native Americans. Cases of lynching in the West occurred for the same reasons they happened in other parts of the nation.  Many cases of lynching and murder in the West occurred as a result of property rights, territorial disputes, employment, ethnic differences, religion and political competition. Immigrants were often targets. 

Mississippi Delta  Chinese Farm Family
Chinese Farm Family, Mississippi Delta

After being forced from gold mines during the California Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants became the primary source of labor for other industries, such as the construction of roads, highways, railroads, telegraph lines and other  American infrastructure in the West. In the 1850s, thousands of Chinese laborers built levee systems, roads and the intercontinental railway in California

When this dangerous work was done on these projects, where the death toll had been heavy, the Chinese laborers were scorned by the general population, prevented from getting an education in American schools and driven from their homes and businesses, which some had established in their segregated neighborhoods.

Burned out and chased away by racist mobs under the influence of Jim Crow laws, many Chinese immigrants in California were threatened, tortured and murdered as examples to others who later fled to other states or back to their homeland in China. 

The plight of the Chinese attracted Mississippi Delta plantation owners to California to exploit and import displaced Chinese farm families to Delta farms to replace slaves after Emancipation. Through labor agents, the same tactic was used to import southern Italian, Lebanese and Syrian indentured servants to Delta plantations to pick cotton alongside black workers who had stayed on farms after being freed.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park 
Photo: National Parks Service 

When word spread of the resources and beauty of the American West.

Naturalist, John Muir, campaigned to have the area protected. Yosemite National Park in northern California was created in 1890 with the U.S. Army in command from 1891 until 1914, when the United States entered World War I. 

The Immigration Act of 1924 further restricted Chinese and other Asian groups from entering the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, but Jim Crow laws against Chinese people continued to limit their freedom and civil rights. People in my own family and neighborhood had Chinese and Japanese ancestry mixed in with their African ancestry. 

Until my mother and I began to travel, I simply wondered about and accepted their facial features and listened to the stories of people in the neighborhood who knew the truth. Traveling and learning about Asian ethnic groups revealed a hidden history of the American West.

Sunny Nash
In my Book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, recognized by the American Association of University Presses for contributing to the understanding of U.S. race relations, I write about this Chinese immigrant experience in a story called: Voyage to America. Follow the Link to read the entire story. Here is an excerpt from the essay.

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Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America