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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 35: America in World War II, 1941 - 1945

A. Philip Randolph (1889 - 1979)

Randolph was the longtime head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and an early black civil rights advocate.

A black ministers son, Randolph became converted to socialism. In 1917 he and Chandler Owen started a radical black magazine, The Messenger, which called World War I a white mans war and urged blacks to refuse to fightin contrast to W. E. B. Du Boiss support for the war effort and black soldiers.

In the 1920s Randolph was considered a political spokesman for the racially conscious new negro, who emerged especially in Harlem and other northern ghettos. In 1925 Pullman porters, who were the lowest-paid rail workers and were all patronizingly called George, approached Randolph and asked him to head their union. In 1937 the brotherhood finally won a contract.

Randolphs proposed March on Washington in 1941 never occurred, but the idea remained alive in the black community, and Randolph was one of the speakers at the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech.

Quote: This is an hour of crisis.To American Negroes, it is the denial of jobs in government defense projects. It is racial discrimination in government departments. It is widespread Jim-Crowism in the armed forces of the Nation.What a runaround! What a disgrace! What a blow below the belt! (Call for March on Washington, 1941)

REFERENCES: Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (2001). William Harris, Keeping the Faith: A. Philip Randolph, Milton Webster, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (1977).

Douglas MacArthur (1880 - 1964)

MacArthur was the American army commander in the Pacific in World War II, the governor of occupied Japan, and the U.N. commander who was fired by President Truman during the Korean War.

His father, Arthur MacArthur, was a famous American officer in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and Philippine War. Douglas MacArthurs strong-arm tactics in ousting the Bonus Army from Washington in 1932 made him a controversial figure, and he remained surrounded by controversy for much of his career.

Although he is best known for saying I shall return to the Philippines, MacArthurs greatest military accomplishment in World War II was actually his difficult battles in New Guinea and Los Negros.

MacArthur was virtually the absolute ruler of Japan from 1945 to 1947, and many Japanese looked on him as a kind of white emperor. Republicans several times approached MacArthur about running for president, but he always refused. In public MacArthur was arrogant, egotistical, and self-promoting, but in private he was more genial and easygoing.

Quote: When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams.I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day, which proclaimed, most proudly, that Old soldiers never die. They just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away. (Speech to Congress, 1951)

REFERENCES: William Manchester, American Caesar (1978); Geoffrey Parrett. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur (1996).

George Patton (1885 - 1945)

Patton was the American tank commander of World War II whose belligerent behavior and ideas made him a focus of controversy.

Descended from Revolutionary and Confederate officers, Patton grew up captivated by tales of his ancestors heroic military exploits. He was raised on his wealthy grandfathers California estate and did not attend school until he was twelve years old.

Pattons tactical skill, especially in the conquest of Sicily, earned great praise, but he was nearly fired from his command when he slapped and browbeat two shell-shocked GIs in an army hospital. Eisenhower reprimanded Patton but permitted him to remain at his post, deciding that his military ability was necessary to the war.

After his spectacular tank breakthrough across France, he entered Germany but became embroiled in further controversy when he advocated that American forces continue on and fight the Russians and that they use Nazi officials and soldiers to do so. Patton was an extreme personality, known for his hysterical outbursts, his constant profanity, and his sentimentality.

Quote: Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. America loves a winner. America will not tolerate a loser. (Speech to his troops before D-Day, 1944)

REFERENCE: Martin Bluminson, Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1888 - 1945 (1985).

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