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The Militant, 6 July 1946

Ray Moore

How Jim Crow Broke Down on a Troop Ship

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 27, 6 July 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


I’ve just returned from,a year in the central, south and western Pacific areas as part of the invading and occupying forces of the army. I was involved in perhaps a dozen full-scale troop movements. All except the last, had a strict policy of segregation.

The last movement was entirely different, probably because the largest number of colored soldiers involved would have made the usual lily-white methods extremely difficult.

The change began in the 25th Replacement Depot in Okinawa, extended the 5,300 miles we traveled to San Francisco, a day’s stay at Camp Knight, California, and assignment to troop trains which shuttled us to our respective separation centers.

Change Begins

Previously, seldom a meal or bull session had passed among the white men, without some derogatory or threatening remark about the Negroes. The difference was not immediately discernible at the Replacement Depot, as men tended to gravitate toward friends from their original units. But the change began to appear at meal time.

The same chow line served both white and Negro soldiers. They ate in the same mess hall at the same tables. This was the first time that many of the white men had eaten with Negroes. A few Ku Klux Klan elements predicted dire consequences.

But the opposite happened, proving that racial prejudice is built up by segregation and quashed by close and equalitarian contact.

It was soon fairly common to see white and Negro GIs playing ball on the same team and testing their skill at chess and checkers together. A formerly unknown comradeship began to form in the “sweating out” process. This, despite the fact that Negro troops were used exclusively for all the dirty details at the depot.

Increased Courtesy

We were sent aboard the transport in alphabetical order, separated solely by destination. In the rush to obtain the best bunks, we were thoroughly intermingled. The inevitable mishaps between white and colored soldiers were not the cue for violent arguments and fights, but on the contrary for vastly increased courtesy.

The change of attitude was shown by a conversation between two white soldiers:

“Too bad there aren’t more white guys aboard,” said one (a super-bigot.) “We’d keep them (the Negroes) in their place. How are you making out with them?”

“Not bad,” replied the other, a Texan who was trying to overcome his heritage of hate. “The way I figure it, I’m just about as good as they are.”

On another occasion, nine white GIs were arguing, analyzing, and explaining to a young soldier from South Carolina who held the traditional southern Bourbon views. In the third hour of discussion, they won him over.

When we reached port, we were transported by ferry to Camp Knight, Oakland. There were many civilian vendors aboard. One, hawking snapshots, had several boards with pictures attached. When a colored soldier looked at them, the salesman shouted: “Hey, boy, are you going to buy those prints?” Another Negro retorted: “Mac, there aren’t any boys aboard this ship.”

Lift the Roof

A similar incident took place when we landed at a waterfront warehouse. A white MP was in charge of lining us up. He shoved a Negro soldier, adding in a hard tone, “Boy, get in that line there.”

Two white soldiers standing several files away shouted, “What the hell do you mean, ‘boy’?”

The cry was taken up by a number of other GIs. The MP, obviously more than a little stupid, repeated the word in the same tone to the next Negro who walked up. The warehouse roof was nearly lifted off as both white and colored soldiers volubly cursed the MP, threatened to take him outside and dunk him in the bay. He retreated in haste.

At Camp Knight we were again quartered together. Together we dug hungrily into the first steaks we had eaten in months and waited patiently in line for a chance to phone home, exchanging grins and comments. Back-slapping and well wishes were the farewells of Negro and white soldiers as we boarded trains for separation centers the next morning.

This brief application of nonsegregation proved an unqualified success, as it has innumerable times in the past, as it always will when it is given a fair try.

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