Why then are we in Uniform? American race relations during the Second World War
Yank, the Army Weekly now available via the second module of Adam Matthew Digitalâ€™s Service Newspapers of World War Two, offers todayâ€™s researchers an insight into the life of the serving American between 1942 and 1945. The magazineâ€™s different editions, New York, Britain and Far East reveal shared experiences, as well as those unique to the different theatres of war.
Soldiers voices come through especially strongly in the letters from the readers, published in a regular feature called â€śMail Callâ€ť. It was one such letter, written by Corporal Rupert Trimmingham and published in the 28th April 1944 edition, that became one of the most talked-about pieces of writing to result from the publication.
Trimmingham, an American soldier born in Trinidad, and latterly residing in Arizona before the war, wrote a letter to Yank which was printed under the heading â€śDemocracy?â€ť In his letter, he describes the injustice of being a serving American soldier treated with less respect than German prisoners of war. He details his experience of being in Louisiana for army business where â€śAs you know, Old Man Jim Crow rulesâ€ť. The only place he and his African American colleagues could be served coffee in the town was at the lunch room at the railway station, and even then they were to be served in the kitchen whilst German prisoners â€śsat at the tables, had their meals served, talk, smoked, in fact had a swell time.â€ť As you can imagine, this provoked strong emotion from Trimmingham, who goes on to question â€śAre these men sworn enemies of this country? Are they not taught to hate and destroy American soldiers sworn to fight for and die if need be for this our country? Then why are they treated better than we? Why are we pushed around like cattle?â€ť He ends powerfully with the line â€śSome of the boys are saying you will not print this letter. Iâ€™m saying that you will . . .â€ť
The letter got a reaction.
In the June 9th edition, three responses were published. All were in support of Trimmingham, and Yankâ€™s decision to publish his letter, although it would be naĂŻve to assume that Yank only received positive responses.
â€śFrankly, I think that this incident is a disgrace to a democratic nation such as ours is supposed to be. Are we fighting for such a thing as this? Certainly not. If this incident is democracy I donâ€™t want any part of it! . . . I wonder what the â€śAryan supermenâ€ť think when they get a first-hand glimpse of our racial discrimination. . . In closing let me say that a lot of us, especially in the South, should cast the beam out of our own eyes before we try to do so in others overseas.â€ť
Henry S Wooton JR, also signed by S/Sgt. A.S. Tepper and Pfc. Joe Rosenzweig
â€śIâ€™m not a Negro, but Iâ€™ve been around, and I know what the score is. I want to thank the Yank . . . and congratulate Cpl. Rupert Trimmingham.â€ť
Pvt. Gustave Santiago
â€śWhat sort of deal is this? It is, I think, high time that this festering sore was cut out by intelligent social surgeons once and for all. I can well understand and sympathize with the corporalâ€™s implied but unwritten question: why, then are we in uniform?â€ť
S/Sgt. Arthur J. Kaplan
Though the responding servicemen may well have been stationed on the other side of the country to Trimmingham, they were able to voice their support, and in turn to all other African American troops subjected to the same treatment. In a later edition of Yank it was reported that Trimmingham himself received hundreds of letters of support personally, in addition to those published in the paper.
The race relations debate is just one of the social and political topics mulled over and debated by servicemen in the correspondence pages of the publications in Service Newspapers of World War Two. Although readers must view them with an awareness of censorship activities and the publishers own agendas, for those interested in the political and social attitudes of servicemen during the second world war, attitudes that they would bring home with them to inform the political landscape of the coming decades, these pages are a mine of information.
The 28th April 1944 issue of Yank will be free to access until October 13th 2019.