Unsung Heroes: Double V Campaign

Published Feb. 19, 2015

Throughout the month of February, in honor of Black History Month, we will be featuring unsung heroes and stories of the civil rights movement. You can find more stories of those well-known and not-so-well-known in our Making A Change EDCollection.

During the civil rights movement, African-American newspapers advocated for change when other newspapers did not. One of these newspapers, the Pittsburgh Courier, was known for its coverage of the local black community. It sought to improve conditions for blacks, as well as empower them.

A informational booklet about the Double V Campaign from the Pittsburgh Courier. It can be found in the Newseum's News History Gallery. (Newseum Collection)

An informational booklet about the “Double V” campaign from the Pittsburgh Courier. It can be found in the Newseum’s News History Gallery. (Newseum Collection)

Established in 1907 by Edwin Harleston, the Pittsburgh Courier weekly became one of the most influential African-American newspapers in the country. On Feb. 7, 1942, only a few months after the United States entered World War II, the newspaper began a campaign known as “Double V”, which sought not only victory abroad but also victory at home.

Through the power of the press, the campaign urged readers to help bring victory abroad by buying war bonds and participating in civilian defense. At home, among other goals, the “Double V” campaign demanded full citizenship rights for African Americans and “elimination of the ban which prevents loyal and patriotic Negro Americans from full participation in the defense industries of the country.” The campaign sought an end to segregation in the military and elsewhere, including professional sports.

The “Double V” campaign was initially successful; it attracted readers and national attention. In October 1943, the campaign ended without any specific changes, but it did provide a voice for those fighting against discrimination at home. While change was slow, World War II helped to shine a light on the domestic problems and discrimination against the very service members who fought for freedom abroad. (According to the National WWII Museum, 1.2 million African Americans served in the U.S. military.) World War II ended in 1945; three years later, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which began the process of integrating the United States Armed Forces.

The Pittsburgh Courier continued to publish through 1965, until it was purchased by The Chicago Defender‘s owner John Sengstacke. Today, the newspaper is published as the New Pittsburgh Courier.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. This blog post is part of the “Unsung Heroes” series, but the “Double V” campaign didn’t have any specific successes. Do agree with the assessment that the Pittsburgh Courier’s campaign was an “unsung hero” of the civil rights movement? Why or why not?
  2. The free press was vital to the success of the civil rights movement. How did the press help bring change to the movement? (In NewseumED, you can use a civil rights timeline for a brief history of the movement and the role of the press.)

NewseumED is a free resource featuring primary sources, interactives, historic newsreels, videos and lesson plans that make history, journalism and the First Amendment relevant to students.

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