A New York Times Notable Book for 2022
The definitive history of World War II from the African American perspective, written by civil rights expert and Dartmouth history professor Matthew Delmont
“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.”
—Clint Smith, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
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.
The persistence of white supremacy in the U.S. means that the nation was not fully victorious in WWII, according to this revelatory history. Highlighting the Pittsburgh Courier's "Double Victory" campaign, which sought "victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home," Dartmouth history professor Delmont (Black Quotidian) documents the harassment of the 94th Engineer Battalion by white police officers and citizens in Guron, Ark., among other episodes of racial intimidation and violence, and details the role Black newspapers played in warning about the dangers of fascism and celebrating the achievements of African American soldiers. Delmont also profiles the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an all-volunteer force that fought in "racially integrated units" against Nationalist troops in Spain, and the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black pilots who helped capture the Italian islands of Pantelleria and Sicily, only have their combat performance unfairly questioned by their white commander. Throughout, Delmont makes clear how Black soldiers' experiences stoked their commitment to fighting for racial justice, noting, for instance, how the preferential treatment of German POWs at U.S. military bases revealed that "Jim Crow segregation and the Nazis' master-race theory were two sides of the same coin." The result is an eloquent and essential corrective to the historical record. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary.