An interview with Mr. Samuel Hyman
Civil Rights Activists
Were the war time home front experiences of black people different from those of whites? The basis for the interview was to examine the question, at least from the viewpoint of one individual. Sam felt that at the all-encompassing level – war, separation, rationing, fear, making do and so on -experiences were probably no different. However, he saw important differences in the impact on blacks, especially in the post-war era and beyond.
For Sam, who grew on a farm in North Carolina, one war time practice did remain vivid. German prisoners of war were used in the south to work on farms. They were transported by train from whatever detention center held them to the farm owners’ locations by train. The German prisoners were escorted in their own rail car, while the era’s Jim Crow rules forbid blacks from even riding in the same car as the white prisoners, and had to ride in cars behind them.
On the civilian front, political and labor struggles for black rights kicked into high gear as the war effort wound up. The demand for labor worked as a force for gaining better conditions. Many steps forward were taken during the war.
The young black men who volunteered served in all phases of the war, but often were assigned jobs as drivers, cooks, truck drivers and even grave diggers. While some of the skills, such as cooking, working with vehicles, and cargo handling were useful in civilian life, few gained technical or administrative skills. None the less, these young men had seen new and different ways of life and their expectations and goals had been altered. The G. I. Bill gave the returnees a means to seek out other futures that they had never considered.
Many went back to high school and then moved up, most often at night, into the new spate of technical and trade schools that sprang up to meet demand – and respond to the government paid tuition.
The trade schools played an important role because it led many of the veterans into the trade roles as plumbers, carpenters and builders and eventually into their own businesses. Sam believes this extension into entrepreneurship simply wouldn’t have happened as quickly without the G.I. Bill.
Many black veterans who Sam remembers, used the benefits to attend college and often chose careers as teachers or in government, particularly in the post office. Many other careers still remained closed to them. The pursuit of government jobs often meant a migration to Washington DC, forming the basis of today’s heavy black population in that city.
The VA loan program that accompanied the G. I. Bill provided the funds for the veterans to become first time home owners. This higher demand, coupled with the growth in black construction and entrepreneurship, along with the VA loan program, helped to create a new community of ownership. “Without the VA loan program this would not have happened for another generation,” Sam said.
There were other spillover effects of the war on black veterans which resulted from the country’s huge surge in demand for goods and services. Many veterans were drawn to Detroit‘s auto plants and to the manufacturing factories clustered around cities in the Mid-west and Northeast, adding to a general black migration already underway.
Sam explained a special by-product of blacks’ war time service – pride. “The veterans demonstrated their pride in their service by wearing their uniforms around town. They had played their role in winning the war. They felt honor in their victory. The community shared that pride just like communities all over the country. Their earned pride expanded into earned expectations to be treated just like other communities.”
“The history and impact of this era on all of us should not be forgotten,” Sam said.