Invisible: Who is missing from American poster propaganda?

These Red Cross nurses from New York should give you a hint.  Look at their faces and compare them to the faces in the posters.  What is different about these women?


African Americans and other people of color supported the US war effort and took on new roles, but artists rarely featured them in poster propaganda. Because Woodrow Wilson called World War I a “war for democracy,” African Americans hoped that their contributions to the US victory would make the case for the expansion of their own rights, which had been decreasing for two decades as Southern states passed new voting barriers—poll taxes and literacy tests—and segregation laws.

African Americans’ continued exclusion from political and civil rights during and after WWI inspired leaders such as A. Philip Randolph to argue with Franklin Roosevelt twenty years later for WWII to bring a “Double V,” not just victory in war but victory for African Americans in the US too. Under pressure, Roosevelt agreed to ban employment discrimination for companies with federal contracts, but he did not desegregate the military.  New organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality used sit-ins to desegregate public places outside the South, a prelude to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  While WWII did not bring full racial equality, African Americans did make progress, unlike in World War I.


Learn more about this whole suffrage centennial project, created by teams in Dr. Kim Little’s HIST2302:  America in the Modern Era First-Year Seminars.