Soldier & Citizen | The Citizenship Project | NPT

Soldier & Citizen | The Citizenship Project | NPT


– [Announcer] The Citizenship
Project is brought to you in by part
by a grant from the Tennessee Civil War
National Heritage Area, and the First
Tennessee Foundation. (patriotic music) – There is nothing,
and never has been, anything automatic about
the quest for rights. When one can lay claim
to the blood debt, we have died on the battlefield, that’s where you are most likely
to make political headway. – Women were
strengthened by the role that they played in
this horrible war. – Before I could be a
citizen, I could be a patriot. The military service becomes
an exercise in manhood, if I can stand there toe-to-toe
with an enemy of my nation, and I can fight, then I might gain the respect
that I so much deserve. (patriotic music) – [Narrator] The
citizens of Memphis were accustomed to
seeing Union troops. The city had been under
federal occupation since the summer of 1862, but they had never
seen any soldiers like the First
Tennessee Infantry. – [Narrator] As it
marched with steady step to the music of it’s own band through the main street
of that once proud, but now humble city,
the inhabitants saw, as they peered from
their windows or stores, what they had never before seen, and had never expected to see. Their own former
slaves powerfully and lawfully armed
for their overthrow, and led, and commanded,
by those whom they considered their invaders. The site must’ve burned
into their very souls, yesterday a slave,
today a free man. Yesterday a civilian,
today a soldier. Lieutenant Colonel
Robert Cowden, Commander First Tennessee
Volunteer Infantry. – One of the most
amazing stories of the Civil War
period that we forget, is how these freedman joined
the United States army, and fought for the United
States during the Civil War, and they were not citizens
yet of the country. So I always think of
these men lining up to go into battle behind a flag that they could carry
and they could touch, but it really didn’t mean
anything directly to them yet. But clearly from their letters, and diaries, and
different accounts, it meant the world to them
to fight for that flag. To go out there and say we
can earn our citizenship, we can earn the
respect of others by fighting for
the United States. – There are really
two dominant ways in democracies that people think
and talk about citizenship. One is that we are all entitled to certain basic rights as
citizens of the United States. But there is another
tradition far older, which comes out of
very similar roots. Which says, that in fact, those who deserve first
class citizenship, are those who make the
greatest contributions to the public good, and the chief way of
demonstrating one’s commitment to the
common good of course, the most salient way, is by sacrificing
on the battlefield. And so when one can lay
claim to the blood debt, we have died on the battlefield, that’s where you are most likely
to make political headway. (soulful music) – [Narrator] For enslaved
African Americans, freedom was the first objective, and in Tennessee opportunity
arrived in February 1862. (canons firing) – As soon as the
Civil War started, slaves began escaping
from the plantations when they heard the
Union Army was nearby, and so they are
freeing themselves. People say they were
freed by the Union Army. The Union Army really
didn’t want to have anything to do with the social
problem, as they called it. But the slaves were taking
their own initiatives, and they were
leaving and they were coming into contact
with the Union Army wherever they could,
by the thousands. And in especially in two places, where most of the civil
war’s battles took place. Number one, Virginia, and number two, Tennessee. – [Narrator] Union forces began conscripting the
freedmen as laborers. It would take President
Lincoln’s Militia Act of 1862 to place them on
the battlefield. – [Narrator] When
first the rebel canon shattered the walls of Sumter, I predicted that
the war would not be fought out entirely
by white men. A war undertaken for the
perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls
logically and loudly, for colored men to
help suppress it. This is our golden opportunity, let us win for ourselves,
the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our
posterity through all time. Frederick Douglass. – [Narrator] United States
colored troops would prove prove themselves
time and time again in battles throughout the South, but never more bravely
than in Tennessee, where a young Union
officer, and future author, would lose any doubt
about their will to fight. – [Narrator] At the
Battle of Nashville it was borne in upon me that
I had made a fool of myself. In an assault upon
the Confederate line by a brigade of
Beatty’s division, and a colored brigade
of raw troops, better fighting was never done. They did not hesitate a moment, their long lines swept
into that fatal obstruction in perfect order and remained
there as long as those of the white veterans
on their right. It was as pretty an
example of courage and discipline as one
could wish to see. Ambrose Bierce. – [Narrator] It
was the first time, in the memorable history of
the Army of the Cumberland that blood of the
black and white men flowed freely together,
for one common cause, for our country’s
freedom and independence. Now we may, as a people,
claim political equality with our white fellow
soldier and citizen, and every man that
makes his home in our country may
exclaim to the world, I am an American citizen. Sergeant Major Daniel Atwood, 100th United States
Colored Troops. – That was a decisive battle,
the Battle of Nashville. Four months later,
Lee surrenders, cause that army under
General John Bell Hood, the Confederate
Army of Tennessee, was destroyed. And once that army
was destroyed, all of the Western
Theater was completely in the hands of the Union Army. Now they could
shift resources over to Grant who has Robert
E. Lee pinned in. So the war was already
over in December 1864 and that was because of
the Battle of Nashville bringing it to a close. (light piano music) – [Narrator] Just
a few weeks later, a few miles from
the battlefield, a Unionist convention was held at the capital to form
a new state government. While there were no African
Americans in attendance, dozens had signed a
petition laying claim to the rights of citizenship as a reward for their
service, their blood debt. (light music) – [Narrator] We, the
undersigned petitioners, American citizens
of African descent, natives and residents
of Tennessee, and devoted friends of
the great national cause, know the burdens of citizenship, and are ready to bear them. Nearly 200,000 of our
brethren are today performing military duty in
the ranks of the Union Army. Thousands of them have
already died in battle, what higher order of citizen
is there than the soldier? If we are called on to
do military duty against the rebel armies in the field, why should we be
denied the privilege of voting against rebel
citizens at the ballot box? The government has
asked the colored man to fight for its preservation
and gladly has he done it. It can afford to
trust him with a vote, as safely as it trusted
him with a bayonet. – [Narrator] Tennessee’s
reconstruction experience differed greatly from
other southern states, it was spared occupation
by federal troops under the Military
Reconstruction Acts. With radical Unionist Governor William G “Parson”
Brownlow in control, it was the first state to rejoin the Union by ratifying
the 14th amendment, granting citizenship
to African Americans. – Tennessee was a
place of optimism under the Brownlow
Administration. Tennessee had been
a place of optimism for African Americans
under Andrew Johnson. There’s about a 10-12
year period there when, if you can get to Tennessee
from the deep South, and you have the chance, schools opening here,
black men in the military, the Fort Negley
story was well known throughout the African
American community, about black men building forts. Also the ability
to be mustered into the military in Tennessee
by the Union forces, is great attraction. – [Narrator] Not everyone
shared that optimism. New rights for freedmen,
including suffrage, infuriated former Confederates
who had been disenfranchised. Banned from the government, they made their voices heard
with vigilante violence through the birth of the Ku
Klux Klan, and similar groups. Unionists would remain in
control for a few years, but shortly after Governor
Brownlow left for Washington, as a senator, state
government fell back into the hands of Confederate
sympathizers. – After the war,
it was pretty tough for those African American
men who had served in the Union Navy
or the Union Army, especially in Tennessee
because the Confederates returned to power
very quickly, 1870. They revised the Constitution
of Tennessee in 1870, and of course those
men were punished, and all African
Americans because if you read the
constitution of 1870, the delegates proclaim this
is a white man’s government. Out right. – [Narrator] The promise
of reconstruction would soon be overshadowed by the oppression
of the Jim Crow era. Poll taxes, literacy
tests, segregation laws, and the threat of lynching, would deny freedmen full
payment for their blood debt. Facing an unpromising future, thousands of black
Tennesseeans would leave the state in
search of a better life. (intense music) A former slave from
Williamson County would get an early start
by enlisting in the Army, leading to a career on
the Western frontier. – George Jordan,
who’s born about 1848, when he entered the military, he could neither read nor write, he taught himself how
to read and write. He would travel out
West and become what a part of what’s known
as the Buffalo Soldiers. On one occasion, after
being promoted to Sergeant, a very difficult task
for a man of color, he makes just about
the highest rank you can hope to achieve,
they are Indian fighters, they fight the Sioux
and the Apache. And George Jordan for
saving one community, is awarded the Medal of Honor. – [Narrator] Jordan
would spend nearly thirty years in the
cavalry, retiring in 1896. He would die eight years later as a result of being
denied medical attention at the post hospital in
Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Service was not denied at
the Fort Robinson cemetery where the Medal
of Honor recipient was buried with full
military honors. Jordan attained America’s
most prestigious award as a soldier, but as a citizen, he was deemed unworthy of
the most basic human right. (dreary music) – [Narrator] If a
lower race mixes with a higher in
sufficient numbers, the lower race will prevail, the lower race will
absorb the higher. There is a limit to the
capacity of any race for assimilating and
elevating an inferior race; and when you begin to
pour in unlimited numbers, people of alien, or lower
races of less social efficiency and less moral force, you are running the
most frightful risk that a people can run. Senator Henry Cabot
Lodge, Massachusetts. – We often forget,
not only how deeply racist was the United
States in the first half of the 20th century, but
also how deeply racialist, by which I mean that
Americans simply thought in deeply
racial categories. If you were from Southern
and Eastern Europe, at that time mostly
Jews, Greeks, Italians, if you were Irish you were
essentially considered as being somewhere farther
down on the racialist scale. In fact it was often thought
that Irish in particular were essentially, to use
the language at the time, no different from Negroes. Right, or simply
another kind of Negro as they understood
it at the time. (sorrowful music) In the early 20th
century the United States was welcoming huge
numbers of foreign born to America’s shores, and
there was a lot of concern, as there is today, about what would this
to do American culture. Would these people
become American? Whatever that meant. Or would they change what
it meant to be American? And of course, every
generation that prides itself on being American wants things
to stay exactly as they are. – Now bringing these
people in created some social problems because
of the difficulties in their ability to assimilate. It was really very difficult
for them in the beginning and once again you
see a little movement of xenophobia
starting in the 1890’S that will really
become very pervasive during the time
of the Great War. (sorrowful music) Over in Shelby County, in
an area called Germantown, for a brief period
of time they renamed that area Neshoba
during World War I. (patriotic music) – [Narrator] Regarded with
distrust by some Americans, immigrants were welcomed with
open arms by the military. (patriotic music) – The most obvious way in which service and citizenship
have been related, has been in the
realm of immigrants. Whenever the US military
has needed soldiers, a sure way to do so, is
to invite those who are not native-born
into the military and promise them
citizenship in exchange. This is a time honored way of
earning formal citizenship. Theodore Roosevelt’s
hope was that if you bring large numbers
of people into the military, they will emerge with a stronger
sense of national cohesion. This would Americanize
the unwashed hordes that would come to
America’s shores and to make them into
true-blue Americans. Like many other progressives,
that was the hope. They also firmly believed
in the American melting pot, but they did not have great
faith that that melting pot could simply work
very well on its own. They thought that
melting pot needed strong institutions that would ensure
that good American values were taught to these
people who they associated with being farther down
on the racial scale. (violin music) – [Narrator] As the United
States entered the war, hundreds of thousands
of immigrants would
answer the call. Nearly 20% of Army
recruits were foreign born. Some units gained
fame as a result of the number of
immigrants in their ranks. Consisting of Italian,
Chinese, Russian, Irish, and Jewish soldiers
from New York, the 77th Infantry was nicknamed
the Melting Pot Division. Ultimately 13 immigrant troops would receive the
Medal of Honor, and due to expedited
naturalization for
military service, more than 300,000
would become citizens, acknowledging their
battlefield sacrifice. (patriotic music) Hoping to gain their own
reward at the ballot box, suffragists were eager to
prove themselves loyal, hard-working patriots by
joining the war effort. – Women had long been
advocating for the vote and during World War I, saw an
opportunity to gain the vote. The idea being that
if we are going to serve as nurses
in the military, if we’re going to serve
in war industries, then we are entitled
to the vote. – When Woodrow Wilson
became president the suffragists had some hope that he might support suffrage and he might be the
president to see that an amendment to the
constitution was added. He was a man who
had three daughters, and he surely was interested
in women being treated equally, and yet Woodrow Wilson was very
wary of supporting suffrage. And this really enraged
some of the suffragists, that when the war broke out, he still would not
support this amendment to the constitution for women
to have the right to vote. (patriotic music) Women mobilized in
a manner that they had never mobilized before when the United States
entered the war in 1917. (patriotic music) – [Narrator] Women’s
efforts on the home front were essential but
overwhelming numbers of casualties over
there created a demand for medical expertise in France. – When America entered
the first world war, the military wasn’t quite ready and so a call went out from
the Surgeon General for nurses. – [Narrator] And the
Red Cross answered. Some 24,000 were
recruited to serve in the armed forces with
over 10,000 stationed on the western front. Despite the need for help, segregation would prevent
many from serving. – There were also
thousands of trained, registered African American
nurses who were not called up. The Surgeon General’s
office claimed that there were
not the quarters, or the mess for the
African American nurses, so they just put them on standby all through the war basically. But it was only when
the flu epidemic hit that the Surgeon
General’s office finally called up all these
nurses that were waiting. None of them ever went overseas, but at least were brought
into the Army Nurse Corps and served an important role in camps here in
the United States. (sorrowful music) – [Narrator] While the nurses
were fighting influenza, which would prove deadlier
than the war itself, suffragists were busy
fighting each other. – The suffragists
really, more or less, had a parting of the
ways related to tactics. The older more established
suffragists felt that the suffragists
should abandon their cause for the
duration of the war and should show the
president, and congress, how much women could
do to support a war, and then when the war ended the president and
congress would see that the amendment got sent to
the states for ratification. Alice Paul however, and
a group of younger women, preferred more militant tactics. They felt that the war
provided a great opportunity to pressure President Wilson
into supporting the war. They took the tactics of, we have got to get attention
for our effort with parades, they had signs comparing
the president to the kaiser, and many of these
women were arrested, they went on a hunger strike
in a Washington DC jail. They felt that the time
had come to embarrass the president enough for
him to support their cause. – [Narrator] They would
not be disappointed. Once the war was over the
push for a 19th amendment, granting the women the right
to vote, picked up steam. – President Wilson did in
fact endorse the amendment and in 1919, in June,
both houses of congress passed it so that it was sent to the states for ratification. And the Tennessee women had
laid the groundwork for this by all of this work
that they had been doing throughout the United States’
involvement with World War I. (intense music) – [Narrator] African
Americans also hungered for first class citizenship. Sensing an opportunity to
break the bonds of Jim Crow, more than 400,000 would
answer Uncle Sam’s call, only to be placed
in segregated units. (intense music) – When the men went
overseas they assumed that they would be
treated with respect and it was only
upon getting there, and I think also when
they were in the camps in the United States
it was very clear that things were
not gonna be the way that they had hoped
and unfortunately that segregation mentality
did follow them overseas. There were 17,000 African
Americans from Tennessee who served in World War I, and
it was as it had always been, military service was
a path to citizenship. And if you could
prevent that service in an honorable way,
the thinking was that, you would prevent the servicemen from attaining the
same equal rights, the same respect as white men. – [Narrator] Assigned
primarily to labor battalions, the overwhelming majority
of African Americans would never see
combat in World War I. However, two black
divisions would fight under French command, the 93rd Blue Helmets and
the 92nd Buffalo Soldiers, bearing the nickname of the
famous western cavalrymen. – Grant Shockley
was from Sparta, TN and he was actually
with the 92nd Division and 368th Infantry Regiment
in the Meuse Argonne. And he wrote a letter home
in October, early October, just as Alvin York was
earning his Medal of Honor in a different area
of the Meuse Argonne, he said I’m quite confident
that I’m gonna be coming home and see ya’ll again real soon. And within five
days, on October 8th, he was shot and killed
in the Meuse Argonne. – Throughout the period
that we are talking about, and even in some ways today, the professional US Military
that is the officer class, was dominated by
the South and so, southern white officers
took many of the norms that they were familiar with
from their own experiences, many of their same
fears and concerns, and transported them across
the sea during World War I. – [Narrator] The US Army sought
to make those fears known to French officers by
distributing a memo detailing how they were expected
to treat black soldiers. – [Narrator] The
increasing number of Negroes in the United States would create for the
white race in the Republic a menace of
degeneracy were it not that an impassible gulf
has been made between them. As this danger does not
exist for the French race, the French public has become
accustomed to treating the Negro with familiarity
and indulgence. This indulgence and this
familiarity are matters of grievous concern
to the Americans. Colonel J A Linard, American
Expeditionary Force. – [Robert] They
were particularly
concerned about whites not socializing with
African American soldiers, fearing in part, of course,
that African American soldiers would get
too used to this, and become too familiar, and would bring
that home with them, and they were particularly
concerned, of course, with French women
getting too close to African American soldiers. – [Narrator] When the
French Ministry learned of the memo they
ordered that all copies be collected and burned. Despite efforts to prevent the proliferation of
racial stereotypes, there were instances
which would mirror events in the Jim Crow South. – In July 1918, Private
William Buckner, who turned out to
be from Kentucky, was accused of raping
a white French woman. He pleaded and
assured everyone there that he had not raped her, and yet it was decided
that he was guilty. – [Narrator] Four years after
his execution by hanging, the Army would reopen the case, finding Private
Buckner innocent. (sorrowful music) – His Mother, Mary Buckner,
never knew the truth of her son, and she wrote to
the War Department and she asked why she
had never received any of the insurance
money, or the benefits, that were promised
in these cases, and she never
received a response. (sorrowful music) – [Narrator] Twelve years
after Grant Shockley’s burial in France his mother would
have the chance to visit her son’s grave as part
of the federally funded Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimages. Learning that the mothers
would be segregated during the trip, as their
sons had been in uniform, she refused. – She was a woman who felt that even if she couldn’t go to war, she could still claim
her right to citizenship and serve the nation
by sacrificing her son, or raising her son to go
off to war and she said, “My son served just as
the white soldier served, and it was a dishonor
to him to have the pilgrimages on
a segregated basis.” They decided to send the
mothers over on separate ships. and even though they swore that there would be no
discrimination, they were sent on cargo ships, where as the other white
mothers went on luxury liners. So it was not the outcome
that they had hoped they would have achieved
through their service in the first world war. (sorrowful music) – What African Americans found
after both the Civil War, and World War I, was for the
most part that their fellow American’s views were
largely unchanged, and their capacity to
make political headway on the basis of that
military service proved very, very limited. In the context of the
post Civil War period, this really comes together
in the 1880-1890’s as there was a grand
sectional reconciliation, between whites of all classes, at the expense of
African Americans. But this is really brought
home in a very salient way, in the wake of the
first world war. – [Narrator] Instead of
receiving recognition for their service, frustrated
black veterans returned home to a nation
seemingly more determined than ever to deny
them full citizenship. Racial tensions
boiled over as riots erupted across the country. – African American soldiers
returned and in Baltimore, in DC, and in Texas they
actually lynched in uniform. 1919 is called the Red Summer. (sorrowful music) It is disappointing,
because it was believed that participation would
change your position, but what the country said was, yes you may have gone off,
you may have fought in a war to make the world
safe for democracy, but your place
hasn’t changed here. – Being a Southerner I
accepted a lot of things that people fight against today, back then I accepted it. – [Narrator] Born in
Dayton TN four years after the first world war,
Charles Lewis Henson would see his share
of hards times. Growing up in the shadow
of racial oppression, compounded by the financial
burdens of the Great Depression. – Jim Crow was more than
a fact across the country, North or South, so African Americans had
every reason not to serve, to say we don’t wanna have
anything to do with this, because you know, you’re
not only oppressing us, you’re brutalizing
us in this country, and denying us the citizenship that we have already fought for. We’ve already bled for,
we’ve already died for, but they were loyal Americans. – There was a lot of
things that went on that I might not have liked
it, but I accepted it. I accepted because duty calls, and you put duty
before your feelings. – [Franklin Roosevelt]
Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will
live in infamy. – When the second
world war comes, many African Americans said, we’ve seen this movie before, what do we have at
stake in this war, but ultimately at
the end of the day, they realized that was an
unsustainable position. The next stage
early in the second world war the
Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most prominent
black newspapers at the time, cast this famous
Double V for Victory. V for Victory against
racism at home. And V for Victory against
racism, that is Nazism, abroad. And that was sort
of the great vision for the second world war, but ultimately the
Double V for Victory gave way itself
to much more tame and traditional themes that
African Americans again, needed to demonstrate their
valor on the battlefield if they were ever
to make headway and to gain first
class citizenship in
the United States. (intense music) – [Narrator] Much like
the first world war, African Americans would
spend the second world war in a segregated
military with only a fraction actually
seeing combat. The most notable exceptions
were the Tuskegee Airmen, eleven of whom
were Tennesseeans. The famous flyers
served with distinction, as part of the Army Air Corps. On the ground the
Buffalo Soldiers, of the Army’s 92nd Infantry, would return to
action to help defeat deeply entrenched
German forces in Italy. (artillery firing) – We prided ourselves
as artillerymen, as being guys that could have three shells in the air before you see the burst
from the first one. The hard part about
artillery is moving up in position, into towns
that you’ve been shellin’, you get hardened to
the point where there’s pleasure in seeing the
top blown off of a house. That’s horrific. You get hardened to the point where you’re writing on
shells, “to hell with Hitler”, and hoping that every
shell that you shoot is gonna end the war. (artillery firing) While you’re shooting,
you might feel good, but when that
stuff starts coming back in from the other side, you feel like a plugged nickel, and that’s the truth. We had moved out from a place
called Pietrasanta, and we started firing at the
enemy from those positions. Fog came in, we
were shootin’ away, (artillery firing) and about that time
a shell came in and blew our Chief of
Section, Hilton Borah, as high as this
ceiling, just about. That same shell
killed my best friend, Henry Lewis from Baltimore MD. (sorrowful music) Not just today, but
everyday, I go through Hilton Borah flyin’ in the air. My friend, Henry Lewis
with the shrapnel going through his helmet, I go
through that every day. Every day of my life. – [Narrator] As
they had done time and time again for 80 years, the Buffalo Soldiers had
proven themselves in battle. After months of bitter combat
and mountainous terrain, sustaining nearly
3,000 casualties, they achieved their
objective of helping to crush German resistance. The question now was
American resistance. – Going through the war, we always said that we
want to get back home to see how things are gonna be. – Change had to come. You can’t argue for change
in the rest of the world, you can’t defeat
a military power that’s repressing a minority, and leave the minority
repressed in your country. (intense music) – When we got back, we stopped
at the station in Cincinnati, the station master said, I can’t feed you
blacks and whites at the same time. And we had white soldiers
and black soldiers, both of them, you
know been drinking, both of them got up and
said look, we been together, we fought together, and we
been together for months, and if you don’t
feed us we’re gonna tear this damn station apart. And I don’t know
about integration, and all of that good stuff, but from that point
on the station in Cincinnati was
a different place. – 1.1 million African
Americans served in the American military,
during World War II, and when those people
came home, men and women, they came back home
hoping that things would be changed,
racially speaking, and they would not be oppressed and treated as unequal citizens. As they had hoped before every American war they
had participated in, and so when they returned
to small town places, like Columbia TN, they expected to be
treated differently. (light drum music) – [Narrator] Navy veteran and
Welterweight boxing champion, James Stephenson shared
those expectations as did his mother, Gladys. Mrs. Stephenson put those
expectations to the test in February 1946, when
she and James returned a recently repaired radio to the department
store in Columbia TN. – She was not pleased with
the way it was repaired. She got into an argument
with the repairman, he became abusive, they
decided to leave the store with the radio, she was planning
to take it someplace else. On the way out this repairman
hit James in the back of the head and James being
the boxer turned around, hit him back, knocked him
through a glass plate window, and of course he was
cut on the glass. The fight continued
out on the street, people who were standing
around the courthouse came over to help the repairman, there were at least three
men beating on James. His mom decided to get
in and say you’re not gonna be beating on my child,
so she joined in the fight. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] James and
his mother were arrested for fighting, with
bonds set at $50 each. Before they could be released, the radio repairman’s
father arrived, demanding that the
Stephenson’s be charged with attempted murder. The judge agreed and raised
the bonds to $3,500 each. – For some in Columbia,
that wasn’t enough. A mob soon emerged
around the courthouse. They wanted more
immediate justice, and in Columbia,
both black and white, knew what that meant. It meant the noose
of a lynch mob cause there had
been two lynchings in Columbia since the mid-1920s. – [Narrator] James
Stephenson’s grandmother, fearing for the lives
of her children, asked Julius Blair,
a local businessman and patriarch of Columbia’s
black community, for help. – For Julius Blair and the
citizens of Maury County, the African Americans, this
was like a recent memory, so they basically said
we’re not gonna have any more social lynchings
here in Maury County. – [Narrator] Julius Blair
posted bail for the Stephensons and put James on a
train to Chicago. Meanwhile, the lynch mob
was preparing to search the black part of town
for James Stephenson. African Americans
watching the mob from rooftops just
a few blocks away, took defensive positions. – And there was just a
lot of confusion going on, and they had heard
a shot coming from the direction of the African
American business district and when the officers
heard that shot, they went into the district. – They met with
armed resistance, and suddenly the Columbia
Riot of 1946 was underway. – When an officer
drew his handgun and ordered the African
Americans to drop their weapons, shots rang out from the
rooftops wounding the policemen. This prompted the governor to
send in the highway patrol, which led the mob on
a path of destruction through the black
business district. (intense music) – [Jo Ann] They started
at one end of the district and went through
the entire district, shooting down doors,
shooting out windows. – You had highway
patrolmen coming into the black business
and residential area, conducting searches
without warrants. They took away 300 guns from
the citizens of Columbia, and arrested scores of
African American men, and the trials then began. As news of the Columbia riot
reverberated across the nation, the NAACP understood they needed
to step forth on this case, because of some of
the poor history of race relations
in Maury County, and the prospect of
additional violence. So Thurgood Marshall joins a
Nashville-based defense team, led by Z Alexander Looby, who is certainly
one of Tennessee’s great champions of the
Civil Rights movement. You have one of the
national leaders and one of the state
leaders combining forces to protect the men
in the Columbia case. – [Narrator] Over 100 African
Americans were arrested, two of whom were shot
to death by police in a reported escape attempt. Ultimately 25 black
men would stand trial before an all-white jury. – They were concerned
about a fair trial, so they made a motion
for a change of venue. They wanted the trial to be held in Davidson or
Williamson County, as opposed to Maury County. But instead the judge decided
to have it in Lawrence County. Lawrence County had a
reputation of having more racial issues than Maury County, but the trial was held
down in Lawrenceburg. (intense music) – [Narrator] The trial
would last for two weeks, and on October 2nd, with
the eyes of the nation on Lawrenceburg, the jury
reached its decision. – The verdict
surprised everyone, here we are in a county
that is more racist, they thought, than Maury County, and the jury find
23 of the 25 men officially charged innocent. And when one of the
jurors was questioned, as to why, there’s no evidence. This jury said there’s
just no evidence. – [Narrator] There would
be no more lynchings in Maury County, or
anywhere else in Tennessee. But the blood debt
remained unpaid. (somber music) Fighting for their
country hadn’t gained African Americans
full citizenship, perhaps fighting for
themselves would. – You know after awhile
people just get tired, we had all these
World War II veterans, who had been abroad
fighting for democracy, and they didn’t have
the same freedoms here. You know they were
back here being faced with a lot of racial
issues from education, to healthcare, to
public transportation, to employment, and
they just said no more, we’re gonna take a stand. No more. – Change was on the horizon, and the African American
veterans are leading the way. Those are such
important chapters in the early Civil Rights
history of Tennessee. – With this situation
in Maury County in 1946 and with the other violent
acts against veterans, President Truman issued
the executive order to create the Commission
on Civil Rights and as a result of that
a lot of things changed. – Truman appoints this
Presidential Committee on Civil Rights,
which emerges in 1948 with a simply
remarkable document. Written in 1948 but could as easily have been
written in 1988. It was so forward thinking, a forward looking
prescient document, that so understood what
were the structural barriers that stood in the way of
all discriminated minorities achieving first
class citizenship in
the United States. (somber music) – [Narrator] With
Executive Order 9981, President Harry Truman
abolished discrimination in the US Armed Forces
on the basis of race, color, religion or
national origin. While an important breakthrough, desegregation wouldn’t
happen overnight. The last segregated units
would dissolve six years later. (happy music) – African Americans
do begin to make progress on civil rights, but it is not because
of their service during the second world war, it’s rather because of how it
is that the war is narrated. After World War I and
after World War II, there was a lot
of racial tension, there was a lot of
racial violence, in some ways those were
remarkably parallel. The big differences, how
are these two wars narrated? The first world
war when Wilson was compelled finally to sell it, was sold as a war to make
the world safe for democracy. The second world war was a war that was all about
rights and liberties. The opponent in the
first world war, as the Wilson administration
portrayed them, were the vicious Huns. The Germans were
portrayed as barbaric, as cruel, as hailing
from Attila himself. In the second world
war they were Nazis, and this was a war for democracy against the values of the Nazis. And so sustaining racism
became a lot harder, during and after the
second world war. (somber music) – African American
military service in the United States
is unquestionable, because African Americans
have participated with their loyalty,
with their service, and their lives, since the
American Revolutionary War, and of course the
American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War
II, the Vietnam War. But they have been disappointed, despite that service we still, as African Americans, are struggling and
fighting against racism all across
American society. So our military
service has not turned into an egalitarian victory for American citizens. (somber music) The Citizenship project
is brought to you in part by a grant from the TN Civil
War National Heritage Area and the First
Tennessee Foundation

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