This paper will be examining The Pittsburgh Courier during World War II. The Courier was one of the leaders of the black press leading up to and during the war. The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of The Courier during this time. The Courier was the creator of the Double V Campaign, which was promoted civil rights and American success in the war.
The method of research for this project was a form of Interpretive Content Analysis called structuralism. This was qualitative research, not quantitative. Meaning was determined based on the interpretation of the researcher. Psychoanalytic approach was also employed to determine the underlying themes of the content.
The research consisted of physically examining The Courier microfilm, from Pennsylvania State University’s West Pattee Library. Specifically, the national edition of The Courier, between December 1941 and September 1945, was used for this study. Background information on Robert Vann and the early years of The Courier was taken from books. The internet was going to be utilized for some research, but there was not a significant presence of information about The Courier in 1998. In light of that, there was no actual information used from the internet for this paper.
As one of the leading Black newspapers, The Pittsburgh Courier was in a position to influence popular opinion among blacks, advocate for civil rights and tell the news in a perspective that was of importance to its readers. The Courier, with over 250,000 weekly subscribers was a leader in circulation. Pass along readership is undetectable, but this too was influential in spreading the Courier’s word. One unsubstantiated account in a story during 1943 claimed that The Courier had a million readers. The masthead proclaimed this in its mottoes, “Leader in Advertising, Circulation, and News” and “America’s Best Weekly.”
“We wish to plead our cause.”
The history of the Black press began in 1827 with the creation of Freedom’s Journal, a New York City publication that premiered on March 16. It was fitting that New York be the location of the first black paper, as it had become a mecca for freed and freeborn negros.* The paper, as the editors saw it would be able to do firsthand what others had been doing. “We wish to plead our cause.” The cause was what would be the cause throughout the history of the black press, equal rights. Calls for mobilization to vote and actively pursue equal rights were printed. Freedom’s Journal folded March 28, 1829.
Two months later, Rights for All came to replace it, but made sure to point out that it was a new paper. After six months, it too folded. It was not until 1837 that another paper of consequence, Colored American (known first as The Weekly Advocate) also of New York City, arrived. The search for subscriptions and no wages for the producers of the paper were what Colored American endured would become the norm for the Black press.
Magazines arrive but struggles continue
The year 1837 was also the beginnings of Black magazines, with Mirror of Liberty in New York City . The following year saw a Philadelphia based magazine, National Reformer debut. In the 1840’s and 1850’s over half-a-dozen Black publications came and went. The Antebellum years were a difficult time for black papers – editors struggled to print and still eat. This held true whether it be in New York City or elsewhere.
Frederick Douglass and expansion of the Black press
This period also saw the beginnings of the Black press in places such as Syracuse and other Upstate New York towns, including Frederick Douglas’s North Star, out of Rochester. With $10,000 of printing equipment from England, Douglas was able to launch and maintain the North Star. Unlike previous papers, the North Star carried news of distant Black communities, fiction, book reviews and verse. The revenue did eventually wane to a point where the North Star was merged with the Liberty Party paper to become Frederick Douglas’s Paper. The merged publication brought in more subscribers and kept the paper afloat until 1860. Mystery, a Pittsburgh paper also reigned during the 1840’s as well as did papers in Michigan, Ohio and Kansas.
In 1855, the first west coast Black paper, the Mirror of the Times, was published in San Francisco and lasted seven years. The South saw its first Black paper, the English-French L’Union from 1862 to 1864 in New Orleans. That city was also home to Black Republican from 1865-1868. The Black press would spread to all Southern states and the border states as well between the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. One paper, The Star of Zion, of North Carolina remained in print into the mid 1990’s. Black Codes, enforced as early as 1865, were written to stop printing in some states. By 1896, there were 112 black newspapers. After 73 years, the Black press had established footholds in almost every state, including the far west and Alaska.
20th Century Black press
The turn of the century saw the beginnings of The Baltimore Afro-American, The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier, the focus of this study. The Afro-American would be an untiring advocate for social change and was printed daily. The Defender is credited with advocating thousands of southern blacks to migrate to Chicago in the Great Northern Drive. When they got there, The Defender was ready for them; helping them find jobs, homes, and tutoring them. The Courier contributed its own movement during World War II.
The Pittsburgh Courier is founded
Originally founded in 1910, The Courier was the brainchild of Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, a guard at the H.J. Heinz food packing plant. He and Robert Vann had shared a common interest; poetry. Initially, the paper struggled to survive, resorting to gimmicks such as offering a free care to the person who signs up the most subscriptions. Despite The Courier’s constant struggles, it was apparent by 1914, it was going to make a go at it.** The paper barely broke even for many years; Vann an accomplished attorney, worked other jobs in addition to his Courier duties, just to make ends meet. Eventually, he was pulled to newspapering full time and by 1926 he had become the controlling owner.
Other facets of The Courier was sensationalism, which came into play as it grew more national, Vann’s promotion of successful Black businessmen, and in 1927, a fueled with the NAACP. In 1929, The Courier built its own plant, complete with printing equipment. At the time of Vann’s death of cancer in 1940, The Courier’s weekly circulation had risen to 185,000. It would slip down to 160,000, but would rise throughout the 1940’s.
The Double V Campaign
Shortly after America’s entrance into World War II, The Courier launched “The Double V Campaign” (Double V). Under the theme of “Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad” The Courier remained patriotic, yet pushed for civil rights for Blacks. It was very important that the campaign show loyalty towards the war effort, since the Black press had been criticized for pushing their own agenda ahead of the national agenda. This campaign was initially a roaring success. This was the most important part of The Courier during the war.
The campaign was created by James G. Thompson, of Wichita, KS. In a January 31, 1942 letter to the editor, titled, “Should I Sacrifice To Live ‘Half American?’” Thompson urged that such a campaign would set apart the confusion of a Black American at the time. Formally debuting February 7, 1942, Double V, appeared only as the insignia; DEMOCRACY on top of two interlocking “V’s” with a crest that included “Double Victory” and AT HOME – ABROAD at the bottom of the logo. An eagle perched across the crest. There was no other mention of the entire campaign in that issue of the paper. On February 14, 1942, The Courier released this statement, above the masthead:
“The Courier’s Double ‘V’ For a Double Victory Campaign Gets Country-Wide Support.” Last week, without any public announcement or fanfare , the editors of The Courier introduced its war slogan- a double “V” for a double victory to colored America. We did this advisedly because we wanted to test the response and popularity of such a slogan with our readers. The response has been overwhelming. Our office has been inundated with hundreds of telegrams and letters of congratulations proving that without any explanation, this slogan represents the true battle cry of colored America. This week we gratefully acknowledge this voluntary response and offer the following explanation: Americans all, are involved in a gigantic war effort to assure the victory for the cause of freedom- the four freedoms that have been so nobly expressed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. We, as colored Americans, are determined to protect our country, our form of government and the freedoms which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world, therefore we have adopted the Double “V” war cry- victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad. Thus in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslaves at home and those abroad who would enslave us. WE HAVE A STAKE IN THIS FIGHT….WE ARE AMERICANS TOO!”
That spring, DOUBLE V became an integral part of The Courier. Photographs of people endorsing the campaign saturated the paper. Supporters of DOUBLE V were prominently displayed, particularly if they were white. One typical photograph, which appeared February 28, 1942, above the nameplate on the front page, contained a black man and his white friend:
To make democracy a fact and not a dream is the aim of William Adams, salesman in a New York Men’s furnishing store, who is pictured here with Seymour Kay, a white shipping clerk. They are supporting the “Double V” campaign.
Some covers, prominently displayed two people, a Black and a White, standing together with fingers on both hands forming V’s. This was placement was essential to The Courier’s plan. The Courier was determined to fight for rights within the democratic system and in cooperation with Whites. Tactfully, The Courier asked that the US practice at home what it preached abroad. This was not an observation made only by the Black press either, the Nazi propaganda machine made note of the double standard in its efforts as well.
The Double V campaigns creators were announced in the April 11, 1942 edition. The brainchild, Thompson and the creator of the logo, Wilbert L. Holloway, a staff artist for The Courier . Holloway was also responsible for the comic strip Sunnyboy and many of The Courier’s editorial cartoons. Photographs were shown of the two men and an essay by Thompson was included. The following is an excerpt from it:
“….I might say that there is no doubt that this country is worth defending; things will be different for the next generation; colored Americans will come into their own, and America will become the true democracy it was designed to be. These things will become reality in time; but not through any relaxation of the efforts to secure them.”
Across the country, Double V clubs surfaced. The Courier, would eventually create a Double V column for such clubs. The week after the campaign began, the February 14, 1943 issue, a photograph two young ladies, titled “Debs (as in debutantes) Support “DOUBLE V” Drive. Soon, pretty young women were regularly shown flashing two V’s, which evolved into the Double V girl, found in every issue, sometimes on page 1. Each week a new young lady would be featured. Typically, they were in college, active participants in extracurricular activities, and of course, strong supporters of the campaign. A typical Double V girl, would have a caption similar to this one;
Lovely Marguerite V. Roan, co-ed at Tennessee A. and I. college, Nashville, is the “Double Victory” girl of the week. Miss Roan, native of Cincinnati, Ohio, is an ardent booster of the “Double V” program and one of the first to join the movement. She is a talented ballet dance and has appeared in many concerts in the midwest. Incidentally, Tennessee A. and I. college is the only school in the country whose entire student body Is organized into a “Double V” club.
Other examples of the campaign’s popularity were shown, whether it be in the comic strips or in dress. One photo showed four young women singers sporting Double V dresses. Double V hats were also featured in the photographs. Whites who endorsed it were featured as well. Politicians who supported the cause were shown on the front page. Actress Lana Turner, was shown in a rather sundry shot in one edition. the caption described that her latest film, Slightly Dangerous, featured Blacks and that she endorsed the campaign and was a Courier subscriber.
Often, The Courier would say that a certain person or organization supported the Double V Campaign. However, these groups and individuals were not always quoted as specifically saying that they endorsed the campaign, just the principles of it. Early on, a number of senators were shown as supporters of the Double V campaign. Warren Barbor (NJ), Francis Malone (CT), and Joseph Guffey (PA) were pictured in the April 11, 1942 issue as supporters to the campaign. There was no story accompanying their photos though, so whether the specifically endorsed the Double V campaign is uncertain. Another example is a January 3, 1943 story with the headline, “Murray, Townsend Seek a ‘Double V’.” The story which detailed the CIO’s plan ( Murray and Townsend were labor leaders) to eliminate racial discrimination which undermined the war effort, did not make one mention of an endorsement for the campaign. The CIO’s plan was in accordance with the principals of Double V, but not actually using it as a rallying cry. Wendall Wilkie, former Republican candidate for President openly supported Double V, appearing in a photograph wearing a Double V pin. The caption included that Mr. Wilkie, “wholeheartedly endorses The Courier ‘Double V’.”
The pin that Wilkie wore was created by The Courier based on reader demand. The campaign had become so popular and promoted so heavily, that there was calls for “official” Double V merchandise, so to speak. Unofficially, double V “fashions” had become quite popular, whether it be in hats or dresses. For a nickel, a Double V pin could be purchased through mail order. In some issues, an advertisement for A Double V pin for five cents, scrolled across the page. This research did not find any totals for sales of the pin though.
On April 4, 1942, it was announced that another Black paper joined the Double V campaign, the LA Sentinel. June 13, 1942 saw five more papers were added to this list: The Washington Tribune, (DC); The Challenger of Columbus, Ohio; The Aiken Journal, (SC); Interracial News Service, a periodical of the Department of Race Relations, Federal Council of Churches, (NY); and The Voice, Rochester, NY.
Even though the campaign was not moving along at the same rate it had previously, the story “Double V Wins in Courier Poll,” printed October 24, 1942, discussed the results of a poll about the Double V. The question was as follows:
“DO YOU FEEL THAT THE NEGRO SHOULD SOFT PEDAL HIS DEMANDS FOR COMPLETE FREEDOM AND CITIZENSHIP AND AWAIT THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS?”
Eighty-eight point seven percent responded NO. Nine point two percent said YES. The remaining 2.1% answered UNCERTAIN
The story did speak of a defensive tone for those who answered NO;
“No one must interpret this militant of Negroes as a plot to impede the war effort. Negroes recognize that the first factor in the survival of this nation is the winning of the war. But they feel integration of Negroes into the whole scheme of things ‘revitalizes’ the U.S. war program.”
A Pennsylvania clerical worker summed it up when he said: “Aren’t the Allies fighting for freedom? How can the deny our effort?”
To address the minority of those polled, The Courier added a the following quote:
“As a race we need education before we can expect full citizenship.”
Other quotes from the articles stated, that there was a need for a “Double V” organization-
“The logical and most sane program of all has been the Double V slogan. Many Whites have endorsed it and in general it has not drawn subversive criticism which has been characteristic of a number of the so-called ‘race liberation’ movements.”
Throughout 1942, the Double V campaign insignia would appear throughout the paper, in margins and sometimes on the front page, above the fold on most of those occasions. These reminders kept the campaign going without devoting actual text to them. However, as 1943 started up, the campaign was taking up less column inches then the initial start. The insignia had essentially disappeared from the pages by September 1942, and the Double V girls did not last much beyond that period. The June 5, 1943 edition did provide one of the most vivid displays of the campaign; two people, one Black, one White, holding each other’s hands to form two “V’s.” This was the essence of the campaign.
Although the campaign was not being promoted as much after Fall 1942, there was one specific feature of the campaign that remained.. Between briefs on its pages, as well as some stories, a “DOUBLE V” appeared. It looked similar to this:
Starting in September 1945, the Double V was finally removed from the paper. However, it lived in spirit as a single V. The victory abroad had been won. The single V lasted into 1946.
Outside of Double V, The Courier’s Advocacy
The Courier crusaded in ways other than the Double V campaign. One of the first war issues that The Courier crusaded against was the ban on blood donation for Blacks. A January 3, 1942 story reported that The American Red Cross would not accept Black blood. This was often a front page story and had a fair share of editorial remarks regarding it. Called the “Race Blood Myth,” it was editorialized as being the greatest dictator on earth, the comparisons to Hitler appeared as well. On January 31, 1942, the Red Cross allowed all peoples to donate blood, but it was to be kept separate. The February 7, 1942 issue proudly proclaimed “NEGRO CREATED BLOOD BANK” on the very top of the front page. It was also noted that there was no scientific evidence that there was a difference in blood based on race to which the Red Cross readily admitted, fueling The Courier’s disagreement with the policy.
As it had before the war even began, The Courier pushed for full integration of the military. The late Robert Vann had been pushing for that during the 1930’s. Coverage of Blacks plight in the military, particularly the Tuskeegee Air School were focused on nearly weekly. The Navy did not accept Negroes as anything but messman. This became one of the biggest and continuing crusades of The Courier during the war. The first example was a story of an unknown Negro messman who, without training defended the battleship Arizona. The Courier printed an excerpt from the December 22, 1941, New York Times, prepared by the NAACP:
A Negro mess attendant who never before fired a gun manned a machine gun on the bridge until his ammunition was exhausted.
More on this story is found further along in the paper, under “Heroes.”
The 93rd Division, an all Black division was given even more coverage, often appearing on the front page, as did the 99th Division. Photographs of the 93rd were many and praise, when it came, was emphasized. A photograph from February 21, 1942 showed a mixed group of soldiers having a good time:
Having a rollicking good time on shore leave at a San Diego cafe is the happy group of sailors pictured here. This scene gives rise to the question if Uncle Sam’s sons of the Navy Blue can play together, why can’t they fight together?
Full inclusion in the war effort was advocated by The Courier , whether it be in the armed forces themselves or in war production plants. A photograph of a striker at a St. Louis plant summed up the attitude The Courier was promoting:
“STRIKING FOR THE RIGHT TO FIGHT AND DIE FOR MY COUNTRY”
One of The Courier’s other ways of promoting the war effort was by including an American flag with every subscription. “BUY WAR BONDS” was also displayed in the paper as the war progressed, in full advertisements and between the stories. The research did not clearly indicate if the “BUY WAR BONDS” between stories were paid advertisements or The Courier’s own advocacy. Starting in 1943, an insignia promoting “100% participation and 10.7% payroll reduction” was placed beside the masthead. Previously, that had been home to the Double V insignia.
The Courier also included the “Negro Pledge of Allegiance” on the front page of one issue. “Yankee Doodle Tan” described as a “moving” song composed by Andy Razaf and J.C. Johnson was written to coincide with the national Double V program, and produced in early April 1942. The song was to symbolize the “non-Nordic” fighting man’s hopes and ambitions during the war. The second headline said that it “looms as a great song.”
Non-Blacks in The Courier
White America was largely ignored by The Courier. This is typical of the Black press, which sought to fill the void that the mainstream papers created. The inclusion of whites in the paper was typically included only if it directly related to blacks. Thomas Dewey, who spoke of bringing down racial barriers as a candidate for Governor of New York and as President appeared on the front page numerous times promoting the same ideals that the Double V campaign was based on. Coverage of Dewey, was very favorable, but often he appeared without a photograph. Photographs of Whites usually included (a) Black person(s) in them. White celebrities and Black celebrities working together was a common photograph. Whites who opposed integration were not shown in photographs very often and received less coverage than their “liberal” counterparts.
The Courier also included, in its editorial pages, views from non-Blacks. Rose Wilder Lane represented the “progressive White” voice. Similar columns were given for an Indian and a Chinese writer as well. The tone of these columns generally agreed with The Courier’s view
The Courier and the Presidency
The election of 1944 is the only one covered by this study, but it should be noted that in 1932 and 1936, The Courier endorsed Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1940, Wendall Wilkie was The Courier’s choice. In 1944, The Courier once again did not endorse Roosevelt, siding with Dewey of New York. Dewey had made headlines for the paper early in the war by being openly against the disenfranchisement of Blacks in America. The Courier felt that Roosevelt had served for too long and criticized him for never championing any legislation to improve the plight of Blacks. The Courier maintained that there was time for a change of administration and vowed it would contend that if Roosevelt won. Also, Harry S Truman, was seen as a threat to the advancements or possible advancements of Blacks because of his alliance with Southern politicians. An October 28, 1944 editorial noted:
“There is NOTHING in Mr. Truman’s record, nor anything in the record of those whose company he keeps, that can possibly justify the support of the Negro people in the key cities of the North. On his recent trip to New Orleans, his company consisted of Senators EASTLAND, ELLENDER, BILBO. This can have but one meaning –MORE SEGREGATION, MORE JIM CROWISM, CONTINUATION OF THE VICIOUS POLL TAX SYSTEM!”
And in a caption from the same issue:
“BIRDS OF A FEATHER”- This chummy picture of Texas Senator Tom Connally, the “Filibuster Tycoon,” and the Democratic nominee for Vice-President, Harry S. (note the period next to S, in reality, Truman’s middle initial was simply S, without a period) Truman, raises a most interesting question in the minds of Negro voters. Henry Wallace was sacrificed at Chicago for this same Truman in order to please the prejudiced Southern politicians. Negroes who vote for the re-election of President Roosevelt this fall, should also PRAY AS THEY VOTE . . . PRAY that Mr. Roosevelt continues in GOOD HEALTH.
Also, in that editorial, and other editorials, The Courier spoke to those who choose to vote for FDR. Citing that the distance between the President and Vice-President is merely a heartbeat away, The Courier would suggest that there be prayer that HE KEEPS GOOD HEALTH. Editorials expressed doubts over whether FDR could survive the term.
The editorials that questioned FDR’s ability to survive became prophetic. April 12, 1945, a cerebral hemorrhage ended the President’s life. In coverage of the President’s death and of the new President, the confrontational tone of the ‘44 election editorials was gone. The front page story of Roosevelt described him as “The Best Friend of Race Since Lincoln, Wilkie” in its headline. President Harry Truman, was shown shaking hands with Marshall Shepherd, recorder of deeds at the top the April 12 edition. There was no reference to Truman’s possible allegiances upon his accession.
Cartoons in The Courier, Part of the Agenda and More
The Courier printed comic strips, panels, and editorial cartoons. The editorial cartoons covered a wide variety of issues, some that were about Black rights and some that were universal in the relevance. Panels were typically light-hearted and did not have any advocacy towards the war effort. Strips were also generally lighthearted and did not advocate as often as the editorial cartoons.
Early in the war, one cartoon depicted a battlefield with downed planes. The editorial that followed explained that if 145 planes were lost everyday, there would be outrage and despair. It was then explained that an estimated 145 planes were not created every day because of poor nutrition of workers. The call of that editorial was for proper eating habits to ensure victory. Other editorials and cartoons would tackle different issues. One cartoon showed a desert, with an oasis of integration and end of prejudice. Themes like this- a vast sea or desert separating blacks from an oasis or island of freedom and true democracy. The February 14, 1942 editorial showed a lookout in a crows nest aboard a ship looking across the sea to freedom. Another showed Segregationists, Klu Klux Klan, Nazis and others throwing stones at the Statue of Liberty. The accompanying story argued that the virtues of liberty were being denied by such individuals and groups.
One of the weekly strips, the typically lighthearted Sunnyboy sometimes included the Double V campaign and other wartime themes such as rationing. One Sunnyboy, February 7, 1942, even included the heavy weight champion, Joe Louis talking to Sunnyboy after his enlistment. That strip also had Sunnyboy advertising a “Joe Louis, Solider” print and yet another had Sunnyboy advocating the Double V campaign.
Society Sue an adventure serial comic included stories involving war factories blowing up with the heroes trapped inside. Bucky was a comic about a little boy and the mischief that little boys get into. At times it too included war themes, such as Bucky praying to god to “defeat the Japs,” and in “Mistaken Identity” spraying a neighborhood Japanese laundry owner with water. That strip, from January 3, 1942, included Asian stereotypes; laundry-owner, poor grammar, and “L’s” that should be “R’s.” The prayer to defeat the Japs, ” Dear Lord, please help us whip the Japs A-A’Amen” appeared on February 2, 1942.
The Courier’s two biggest heroes of the war effort were two soldiers, one who was initially anonymous and the other was the most famous black man in America.
At Pearl Harbor, a Negro messman rushed to an unmanned gun and fired until the ammunition was exhausted. This came to light after the initial reports from Pearl Harbor, which was refereed to earlier in this paper. The Courier continued with the story, and sought to learn the identity of this hero. Not releasing the names of Black heroes was not too uncommon for the military; the May 8, 1943 edition detailed a heroic, but unnamed machine gun crew of 11.
As of February 14, 1942, the heroic Pearl Harbor messman remained unknown, but was shown to be decorated in a story from that issue. Exactly one month later, The Courier got the “scoop of the year” and learned that the decorated messman was Dorie Miller. In the April 4, 1942, The Courier reported that Miller was honored by a CBS program. Admiral Chester Nimitz pinned a medal on Miller in June ‘42, reported on June 20. The Courier advocated for his return in the June 27 edition and offered this question,
Why can’t Dorie Miller, the messman who risked his life to save that of his dying captain at Pearl Harbor, be returned to his country so people may see him? Why does the Navy Department find it so easy to return other men – commanders of battleships, commanders of submarines and destroyers, aviators and other personnel – and so difficult to return the heroic mess boy, Dorie Miller? Men who fought in the Coral Sea in May have been returned to the United States.
On February 6, 1943, The Courier made another plea for Miller to be returned to the States. The comparison this time was that of Joseph L. Lockhard, a sergeant at Pearl Harbor who warned of impending Japanese attack (which was ignored), was sent to officer training school. Miller, who FOUGHT in the battle was “too important waiting table in the Pacific to return him.”
In photographs accompanying the article, Lockhard’s included the caption, “He Warned . . . Got Commission” and Miller, “He Fought . . . Keeps Mop.”
For all of The Courier’s advocacy, Miller never returned home or received commission. In November 1943, Miller was killed in battle, reported June 3, 1944
Messman heroes were not limited to Miller. Another posthumous hero was Leonard Roy Harmon, who died in the South Pacific. Harmon would later be recognized with the commissioning of the USS Harmon, a destroyer escort. Ships, such as the Harmon, became heroes in themselves. Marian Anderson, famed opera singer, christened the Booker T. Washington, appearing in the October 3, 1943 edition. Robert Vann, founder of The Pittsburgh Courier, was also honored with a ship bearing his name. The October 16, 1943 Courier used this occasion to commemorate Vann’s life.
The Brown Bomber
Unlike the messmen heroes that The Courier promoted, Joe Louis, often referred to simply as Joe, was famous before the war. The champ, who donated all of the proceeds of the Buddy Baer purse to the Navy Relief Fund, enlisted in the Army. The Courier supported Louis from the start of his enlistment with heavy coverage on the front page and throughout the paper with photos included. January 17, 1942’s cover featured Louis saluting in front of an American flag. That same issue, Wendall Wilkie praised Louis for all of his efforts and urged that it was now the Navy’s turn. January 24 included a photo spread of a day in the Army for Louis. Showing that Louis’s popularity was universal, a cartoon from The New York Journal-American appeared in the January 31 Courier and showed Louis in the ring clobbering an opponent. Behind his blows were dignity, courage, honesty, patriotism, modesty, unselfishness, sportsmanship, and clean living. His opponents: stupid bigotry, race prejudice, and vicious intolerance. Tallulah Bankhead, star of the stage, was quoted in the February 28 issue as saying that the “three greatest Americans were FDR, Joe Louis, and Wendall Wilkie,” in that order.
Louis’ movements were followed wherever he went. Working more as a good-will ambassador for the Army, it was announced in the July 17, 1943 Courier that he would be going on a ‘round the world tour of Army posts. In an adjoining box, readers learned that Louis was mobbed by autograph seekers, causing him to arrive twenty minutes late for a Pentagon meeting. Readers even learned of an addition to the Louis family, a girl named Jacqueline, born February 8, 1943 and reported on the 20th of that month.
The Pittsburgh Courier of the World War II years continued to serve the basic function on which the Black press had been formed over 100 years previously; “we wish to plead our cause.” To The Courier the cause was two-fold; the end of Jim Crow and disenfranchisement, and the defeat of the Axis powers. Overall the cause was freedom. Double V campaign was brilliant in its simplicity to achieve these ends. The evidence to support this is the initial reaction in a mere week without anymore than the insignia. The responses in The Courier showed that this was an accurate representation of the feelings of Blacks across America who wanted America to be the free land that it was capable of being. This campaign called the country on its double-standard of fighting for freedom on the world stage, yet denying it to 10% of its own population. This was indeed a militant campaign, but militant within the system. The Double V was not calling the destruction or overthrow of society to achieve its means, rather the inclusion into society. This was a democratic movement, it was designed to use the system at its basic ideological level. The very society that denied civil rights was embraced by the people who were at the bottom.
The campaign call upon the tactic of the overall American campaign in both World Wars, VICTORY and made it include the homefront. It was a positive assertion of rights through cooperation, friendship, respect, love, and the very principle that this nation was created on, “all men are created equal.” The Double V mobilized Blacks into fighting a war for a country that did not treat them as full citizens. Optimism was an important component, it was creator James G. Thompson who said that the next generation will have it better.
There is no doubt that The Courier was setting an agenda. The paper was proud of its advocacy and made no apologies for fighting to be recognized as Americans. The Double V was the ultimate expression of the agenda. Other expressions, such as the integration of the armed services were also very important to promoting the agenda. It was the heart of the agenda.
Dorie Miller was also symbolic of the agenda, the “everyman” solider who performed at the most crucial time beyond his training to preserve the nation. Even in doing that he was brushed aside, and not even given credit initially. Others had done less them him and returned to the States to be hailed as heroes and trained as officers. Miller would never receive this because of his skin color. He would eventually be rewarded and honor by the military and press alike, but for him and the other Blacks in the service, the real prize was denied. Upward mobility through promotions and commissions would not come to the lowly messman, no matter how great his deeds were. The Courier advocated that it should not be that way, blacks should be should be given the same opportunity to defend their country.
Joe Louis was the opposite end of the spectrum than Dorie Miller. He enlisted into the Army and became the hero of America, regardless of race. The Courier promoted his effort, as did the mainstream press as the example of a great American. Louis was allowed to do all of this because he was famous, a heavyweight champion in boxing. He was a symbol of sacrifice for the greater good. Why then, did the military contradict itself by allowing Joe Louis to be a hero, but not other Blacks, The Courier asked?
Across the sea of inequality, The Courier sailed towards the promised land, the agenda was its sails, with two “V’s” proudly displayed beneath the stars and strips. The Courier fulfilled its mission to plead our cause and continue the war, started in 1827. The Double V campaign brought the war closer to conclusion and Civil Rights closer to its people.