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Reviews of Half American by Matthew Delmont

Half American

The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad

by Matthew Delmont

Half American by Matthew Delmont X
Half American by Matthew Delmont
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2024, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

The definitive history of World War II from the African American perspective, written by civil rights expert and Dartmouth history professor Matthew Delmont.

Over one million Black men and women served in World War II. Black troops were at Normandy, Iwo Jima, and the Battle of the Bulge, serving in segregated units and performing unheralded but vital support jobs, only to be denied housing and educational opportunities on their return home. Without their crucial contributions to the war effort, the United States could not have won the war. And yet the stories of these Black veterans have long been ignored, cast aside in favor of the myth of the "Good War" fought by the "Greatest Generation."

Half American is American history as you've likely never read it before. In these pages are stories of Black heroes such as Thurgood Marshall, the chief lawyer for the NAACP, who investigated and publicized violence against Black troops and veterans; Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., leader of the Tuskegee Airmen, who was at the forefront of the years-long fight to open the Air Force to Black pilots; Ella Baker, the civil rights leader who advocated on the home front for Black soldiers, veterans, and their families; James Thompson, the 26-year-old whose letter to a newspaper laying bare the hypocrisy of fighting against fascism abroad when racism still reigned at home set in motion the Double Victory campaign; and poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a war correspondent for the Black press. Their bravery and patriotism in the face of unfathomable racism is both inspiring and galvanizing. In a time when the questions World War II raised regarding race and democracy in America remain troublingly relevant and still unanswered, this meticulously researched retelling makes for urgently necessary reading.

INTRODUCTION

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, James Gratz Thompson, a twenty‑six‑year‑old Black cafeteria worker from Wichita, could not sleep. He had registered with the Selective Service the prior year, and now, with the U.S. declaring war on Japan and Germany, it was only a matter of time before he'd be drafted. The prospect of war was frightening for many civilians, but something else was on his mind on that cold Kansas night. Sitting in his family's home, in a vibrant Black neighborhood amid a segregated American city, Thompson wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the nation's largest Black newspaper, expressing the concerns that he and many other Black Americans felt about joining a racially segregated military.

"Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?" Thompson asked. "Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow? Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in ...

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Reviews

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Strategically, Delmont begins not with any widely known WWII event but with the black press and their sphere of influence. While it was somewhat in vogue to not fight the "white man's war," the black press promoted their own creation, a "Double V" campaign which signified victory both against inequality at home and against fascism overseas. In the meantime, the U.S. Army refused to integrate its segregated units, curiously saying they were not interested in "sociological experiments." Despite not always being recognized at the time, there are many examples of black excellence and brilliance during WWII, perhaps the best known today being the Tuskegee Airmen. Deployed in June of 1943, they were the first black American pilots to fly in combat. Movies have been made about the Tuskegee Airmen; Red Tails comes to mind. But Delmont focuses on many other examples of black people who participated in the war as well...continued

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(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
This vivid book shows how much of World War II looks different when viewed from the perspective of Black Americans—many of whom drew parallels between the fascist threat abroad and Jim Crow at home.

New York Times
Delmont is an energetic storyteller, giving a vibrant sense of his subject in all of its dimensions.

Booklist (starred review)
Delmont's work restores these times to our collective memory.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The narrative provides important pages that have been missing from American history. A vital story well rendered, recounting a legacy that should be recognized, remembered, and applauded.

Library Journal (starred review)
Civil rights expert Delmont has written what is sure to become the standard text on the experience of Black U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II...While books have been written on the experiences of individual units and soldiers, this one takes a unique approach, making it one of the best and first truly comprehensive books on the subject. This is long overdue.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The persistence of white supremacy in the U.S. means that the nation was not fully victorious in WWII, according to this revelatory history...Delmont makes clear how Black soldiers' experiences stoked their commitment to fighting for racial justice...an eloquent and essential corrective to the historical record.

Author Blurb Clint Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
When I first learned about World War II, little was said about the role Black Americans played in the war effort. I wish Half American had been in my classrooms. Matthew F. Delmont's book is filled with compelling narratives that outline with nuance, rigor, and complexity how Black Americans fought for this country abroad while simultaneously fighting for their rights here in the​ United States. Half American belongs firmly within the canon of indispensable World War II books.

Author Blurb Keisha N. Blain, coeditor of Four Hundred Souls and author of Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America
Matthew F. Delmont's Half American is a bold, searing, and moving account of the courageous Black men and women who served during World War II. While their stories and contributions are too often sidelined in American popular narratives, Delmont's brilliant book skillfully weaves together insights from an array of archival records and military documents to place Black Americans at the center of the story. With rigor, passion, and depth of analysis, Delmont compellingly demonstrates that Black participation was absolutely essential to American victory during World War II. This is a must-read for anyone interested in race, American democracy, and military history.

Author Blurb Peniel E. Joseph, author of The Third Reconstruction: America's Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century
Half American is a triumph of eloquence and erudition. Historian Matthew Delmont sheds invigoratingly bold and new light on the dual struggle to end racial injustice at home and internationally during the Second World War. This expert distillation of the wartime struggle for Black dignity and citizenship reimagines the history of postwar American democracy. Through brilliantly moving personal histories that simultaneously touch the local, national, and global, Half American illuminates the depth and breadth of a 'Double V' campaign that, in many ways, never truly ended.

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Beyond the Book

The Camp Logan Mutiny

Before he was hanged for his alleged role in the Camp Logan Mutiny, Army Pfc. Thomas Hawkins wrote a letter to his mother and father. It was both poignant and simple. "When this letter reaches you, I will be beyond the veil of sorrow. I will be in heaven with the angels…I am not guilty of the crime that I am accused of but Mother it is God's will that I go now." The crime Hawkins had been accused of playing a part in was the murder of 16 whites during a riot in segregated Houston, Texas in 1917. At least four black soldiers were also killed.

Black-and-white photograph of court martial trial for Camp Logan Mutiny, showing accused soldiers seated in roped off section on side of the room and others seated at tables in center and back

In Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad, Matthew Delmont draws attention to the hostile and racist atmospheres that black American...

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