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African Americans in World War II facts for kids

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Above and beyond poster
1943 U.S. Navy recruiting poster featuring Doris Miller
  • Segregation was still an issue during World War II. When they were allowed to fight, black men had to serve in their own units apart from white soldiers.
  • Many black soldiers did not fight in active campaigns during the beginning of the war. They served in other ways such as cooks, maintenance men, and nurses.
  • Toward the end of the war, black men proved that they were skilled fighters and could serve their country well.
  • President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of all U.S. armed forces in July 1948.


Even though there were many African Americans who enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, segregation was still an issue. Segregation is when different races are separated based on the color of their skin. There were units of the Army that were completely made up of black men and other units of the Army that were completely made up of white men.

Jobs of African-American Soldiers

At the beginning of the war, African Americans rarely fought but served the Army in other ways. Some were cooks, others did maintenance work, and some served as nurses. Toward the end of the war, black men were allowed to fight in active campaigns of the war.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion fought well during the war. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first group of African-American pilots to serve in the military. The 761st Tank Battalion was the first African-American tank unit to fight in the war. The 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, consisting of fewer than 1,000 soldiers, is credited with bringing down 88 German planes. They fought in nearly every major Allied land campaign during the war.

Famous African-American Soldiers

Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Served as commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. He later went on to become the first African-American general in the United States Air Force. His father had been the first African-American brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

Doris Miller, a Navy cook, was the first African American recipient of the Navy Cross. He was awarded for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese planes were attacking, Miller ran to an anti-aircraft gun and fired at the Japanese aircraft, even though he had never been taught how to use the weapon.

Famous Firsts

The first African-American woman to serve in the Navy as a nurse was Phyllis Mae Dailey. She was the first of only four women to serve as a Navy nurse during World War II.

Joseph C. Jenkins became the first African-American commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard.

The Golden Thirteen became the Navy's first African-American commissioned officers.

Frederick C. Branch became the first African-American United States Marine Corps officer.


During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, General Eisenhower was severely short of replacement troops for the all-white companies. He allowed 2,000 black servicemen to serve in segregated platoons under the command of white lieutenants. The platoons served well. Not one black platoon received a ranking of "poor" by the white officers or soldiers that fought with them. 84% were ranked "very well" and 16% were ranked "fairly well." This was a small, but important step toward the permanent integration of black with white soldiers in the following wars. President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of all U.S. armed forces in July 1948.

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African Americans in World War II Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.