Impact and Expectations After War

As Wade J. Henderson, former director of the Washington office of the NAACP stated:

“African-Americans are patriotic people and their commitment to the full freedoms of this country and to the protection of American interests has been strong. We are disturbed, however, that many African Americans see opportunities in the general society so severely constricted that for some, the military option is the only viable one.” (New York Times, 1991).

Military - WWI Training, Atlanta University undated Atlanta University photograph collection
Military - WWI Training
Atlanta University
Atlanta University photograph collection

African Americans have played a role in the military from the Revolutionary War era to the War on Terror. Joining the military or being drafted were sometimes seen as pathways to freedom and equality, but the experiences of African American soldiers, veterans, and civilians, both at home and abroad, were filled with bravery and defeat, along with civil rights advancements and setbacks. As depicted in the items featured here, African Americans faced unique issues and mixed reactions in times of war.

3 The Foundation, Interdenominational Theological Center1942 JulyInterdenominational Theological Center printed and published materials
As seen in this editorial in Gammon Theological Seminary’s “The Foundation”, all aspects of life were impacted by World War II, including religious life.

Symbols of the community, such as the black church faced hardships due to war, as seen in the Gammon Theological Seminary publication, “The Foundation.” Though individuals received recognition for their military service through commendations, such as those awarded to Trezzvant Anderson and Robert Penn, the country as whole expressed different reactions. Each individual black experience has been different, but for many, they returned home to the same inequality and oppression. These items depict the story of African Americans in wartime and the impact, not only on the men and women who served, but the larger community.


Church and Community Response

"Liberty Magazine", November-December 1967

War impacted all areas of American life, and the Church was not immune. World War II put a strain on everyone’s resources, as seen in the Gammon Theological Seminary publication, “The Foundation.” Churches recognized the role they played in helping veterans readjust to civilian life, with some devoting whole publications to the topic, such as the National Lutheran Council’s “When They Come Home” booklet.


Click on the image to read the brochure fullscreen.

Many churches recognized the role they played in helping veterans readjust to civilian life after war, as seen in this publication from The National Lutheran Council.
When They Come Home

6 Robert E. Penn, circa 1943, 1939/1945, Robert E. Penn Collection
Robert E. Penn, circa 1943
Robert E. Penn Collection

With the strong connection between churches and the black community, throughout history, many African-American theologians weighed in on the impacts of war. While some, like C. Eric Lincoln in his manuscript, “War…and its aftermath” reflected on the toll that the Vietnam War took on the African-American community, and the likelihood of an all-black U.S. Army as the country contemplated the move to an all-volunteer force, others used war as an allegory for spiritual struggle, as seen in sermons from Robert E. Penn, Hercules Wilson, and Levi Terrill. As Reverend Wilson eloquently states in his 1950 sermon, “The source of national safety,” “it is not by the power of armies that men are saved, but by the spirit of God.”

7 C. Eric Lincoln, 1967, C. Eric Lincoln Collection
C. Eric Lincoln
C. Eric Lincoln Collection

Click on the image to read the essay fullscreen.

"War...and its Aftermath"
Lincoln, C. Eric (Charles Eric) 1924-2000
C. Eric Lincoln collection

In addition to the challenges facing all veterans returning from war, African American veterans also had to contend with racism and segregation after returning home from battle. The passage of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill, expanded educational and vocational opportunities for veterans following World War II; however, just as the civilian African American population experienced, segregation limited opportunities for African American soldiers returning from war. Because the G.I. Bill ceded responsibility for overseeing and adminstering benefits to the states, veterans in the South faced greater barriers to completing their education through the G.I. Bill than those living in northern states.

GI Bill of Rights
GI Bill of Rights, 1944

Click on the image to read the brochure fullscreen.

Veterans' Handbook
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
circa 1945-1946
Rufus E. Clement Records
Veterans’ Handbook

HBCUs were more limited than white colleges in their ability to accommodate veterans due to more limited institutional resources and physical space. As older students, many returning veterans were married and required family housing in order to attend school, but were turned away due to the lack of accommodations. Additionally, many of these schools did not offer graduate or professional programs that many returning veterans sought.


Though the G.I. Bill was portable, and these southern veterans could have used their benefits at schools up north, many men did not take advantage of these opportunities due to limited available information about college alternatives, the potential disruption of living so far from home, and the potential persistance of discrimination faced at northern institutions. Because of these barriers, the G.I. Bill in the South “exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites” (Turner & Bound, 2002).

Guidance Center Expected At School Of Social Work, Atlanta Daily World1946 April 24Rufus E. Clement Records
"`Guidance Center Expected at School of Social Work,`" Atlanta Daily World, April 24, 1946
Letter to Dr. Rufus E. Clement from Quentin S. Doty, Quentin S. Doty, United States. Veterans Administration, 1946 October 9, Rufus E. Clement Records, 1933-1969 - AU Presidential Records
Following World War II, a guidance center for veterans was established at Atlanta University.
Vietnam Veteran's Conference Speech, Maynard Jackson, 1973 June 7, Maynard Jackson mayoral administrative records: Series D: Speeches and speaking requests
Speaking at the 1973 Vietnam Veterans Conference in Atlanta, Vice Mayor Maynard Jackson touches on the numerous problems facing veterans post-Vietnam.

Artists' Depiction of War

Spirit of the 366th, Bannarn, Henry Wilmer, 1943, Clark Atlanta University Art Museum
Spirit of the 366th
Bannarn, Henry Wilmer
Clark Atlanta University Art Museum

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