The Great Depression and the Years Leading to It
The 1929 election was a referendum on Wilson and his belief in universalism. Voters abandoned him
and voted for Warren G. Harding, who won a landslide victory.
Warren G. Harding
A Republican elected in 1920
A senator from Ohio
Harding promised a return to ‘normalcy’
Conservative values and down home personality
Drank bootleg whiskey, smoked/chewed tobacco, played poker weekly, and had affairs with
Some of his cabinet members were considered to be the best minds in the party, while many
others were only out to line their own pockets with money
Many were never prosecuted because of lack of evidence (believed destroyed)
Appointed four (4) conservative Supreme Court Justices, one of which was William Howard Taft
Taft believed he had been appointed to do away with many of the laws that had been passed
during the Wilson years
Taft struck down many labor laws and a law granting minimum wage to women
Ruled against striking unions and limited the powers of regulatory agencies
Strong pro-business environment
Andrew W. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, balanced the federal budget
Oil deposits had been laid aside as a naval oil reserve which was to be under the watchful eyes
of the Interior Department
Harding allowed oil companies access to the oil deposits
Harding died in 1923 in San Francisco
Harding’s Vice President and became President when Harding died
Believed the presidency should be as it was in the Gilded Age: “passive deference to Congress”
Nicknamed Silent Cal
Goal: to end regulation of business/industry, reduced taxes and national debt
1924; elected to President in his own right
Imperialism survived, but internationalism was dead
In 1925, Bruce Barton wrote a best seller titled The Man Nobody Knows. In his book, Barton presented a
modern retelling of the story of Jesus. The Nazarene was portrayed as a modern corporate executive
who took twelve men from the lower ranks of business and turned them into an organization that
conquered the world. Barton argued that Jesus’ parables were “the most powerful advertisements of all
You might wonder why this book was such a best seller. One reason was the shift from progressive
concerns to the deferential treatment the federal government afforded private enterprise throughout
Upon the death of Harding, Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency on August 8, 1923. He believed in
the benevolence of American capitalism. He admired men of wealth and accepted the Darwinian
principal of survival of the fittest.
During the 1920s, the regulatory agencies were populated with Republican appointees who were
dedicated to non-interference. They did nothing to slow or halt mergers, price fixing, or other non-
competitive business practices.
The chair of the Federal Trade Commission, William T. Humphrey, Believed the work of his agency to be
oppressive and socialistic.
An enormous amount of stock speculation took place and while this disturbed Coolidge, he did nothing
to curb it.
Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who was the third richest man in the world, promoted stock
investments. He believed the government could help the economy by leaving it alone. On the other
hand, he believed a large tax cut would benefit the national economy. In 1924 an 1926, he proposed tax
reduction bills that halved the top income tax rate and slashed the estate tax.
The Progressive tax legacy of the Wilson administration was wiped out.
Wealthy Americans had more money to spend and most invested it into the stock market.
The market continued climbing because of the investments being made and also corporate dividends
By the late 1920s, stocks seemed to be sure bets for investment. Many people borrowed from brokers
to purchase even more stock. This practice, which was called buying ‘on margin’, drove stock prices
Price to earnings skyrocketed and corporate profits increased at more than twice the rate of
productivity. But, what impressed most middle- and upper-class Americans was the value, on paper, of
their market portfolios.
Some corporations invested their cash in the stock market instead of research and plan expansion.
Why? They believed there would be a higher return on investments, not productivity.
Beneath this economical behavior was the political assumption that the public interest and the interests
of the business community were the same. In 1925 Coolidge stated “The chief business of the American
People is business.”
This thinking produced a warped and unsound financial structure that only appeared to be prosperous.
While it did make sense for firms to use productivity gains to find higher stock dividends, this practice
only enhanced the disastrous misdistribution of income. This was promoted by Mellon’s tax cuts. These
tax cuts eroded consumer purchasing power that had begun the New Era boom.
The federal government supported any and all business policies during the 1920s. Labor unions were
weak and these two factors meant there was no counter force to lobby for reason and balance.
In 1928, Herbert Hoover was elected president. He was supported by the industrial working class who
believed his claim that the Republican party had brought the U.S. near a “final triumph over poverty.”
On Election Day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 257.58 to a record close of 381.17 on
September 3, 1929.
There were several indications long before the stock market crash that the economy was in trouble.
Some of these indicators were:
1. The nation’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very few people.
2. The rate of savings was very low. The families of workers who lost their jobs could plunge from
middle-class to poverty with no money left to pay for automobiles or radio sets, even on an
In June 1929, financial wizard Bernard Baruch stated, “The economic condition of the world seems on
the verge of a great upward movement.” Irving Fisher, a noted academic economist stated “Stock prices
have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
The deep stock market plunge began on October 24, 1929. Thirteen million stock shares were sold and
On October 29th, Black Tuesday arrived. That day sixteen million shares were sold. When the day’s
session ended, the market value of the listed companies, including the blue chip companies, fell by a
third, from eighty-seven billion to fifty-five billion dollars.
To make matters worse, brokers began calling in loans. These loans could only be paid through the sale
of more stock.
Over the next few months personal bankruptcies soared, dramatically decreasing consumer spending.
This caused many businesses to fail. This, in turn, led to unemployment and more business failures.
The stock market bottomed out on July 8, 1932. The Dow Jones closed at 41.22, down 89 percent from
hits height on September 3, 1929. During this time, AT&T dropped from 304 to 72, U.S. Steel from 262
to 22, and Montgomery Ward from 138 to 4.
Many banks failed during the first three years of the Great Depression.
In April 1929, 1.6 million Americans were out of work; in April 1930, 4.3 million were unemployed. By
April 1932, 12.1 million people were unemployed.
In 1931, hospitals began reporting deaths from starvation.
By the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in March 1933, one in four Americans was unemployed.
Hoover opposed direct financial assistance to the poor. He believed cash payments would undermine
traditional American individualism and make the people dependent on the government.
Instead, he wanted to provide federal funds to state and local governments to expand their public works
projects. He believed this would provide temporary employment.
In July 1932 the Democrats passed a bill that would have established federal jobs programs. Hoover
vetoed it. He called the bill “the most gigantic pork-barrel raid ever proposed by an American
To be fair, many of Hoover’s programs were innovative and remarkable, especially considering he had
once believed business alone knew best.
To most Americans, he was more interested in saving business, not helping individuals and families
In 1932, the Democratic Party nominated Franklin Roosevelt. Election Day brought a Democratic sweep.
Roosevelt won 23 million votes to Hoover’s 16 million. The mandate for change was clear.
The First 100 Days of The New Deal
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. During his inauguration speech he uttered
these famous words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” His gift for inspiring confidence defined
On Inauguration Day, the U. S. was in the depths of the worst financial crisis ever. The banking system
Four years of economic depression put a tremendous strain on the system and weaker banks had
already failed. A chain reaction threatened the stronger banks.
Americans watched as neighbors lost their savings to bank failures. Out of fear, they withdrew their own
savings to keep them safe. Once begun, bank runs were difficult to stop and in late 1932, the rate of
withdrawals had dramatically increased.
In February 1933, there was widespread panic. The governor of Michigan closed banks in that state to
avoid collapse. Other states followed. By March 4, banks in 38 states were closed, and the New York
Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade were shut down.
Just before leaving office, Hoover commented: “We are at the end of our string.”
Roosevelt knew he had to act. The day after his inauguration, he closed the banks for a four day national
holiday. Some questioned the legality of this action.
Teams of examiners were sent into the banks where the accessed the soundness of each individual
institution. Those banks, whose books passed, were given infusions of federal capital to help them
remain solvent. Those that did not pass remained closed and as much money as possible returned to
The Seventy-Third (73rd) Congress was called into special session.
On March 9th, the Emergency Banking Act was sent to Capitol Hill. The country was in crisis and the
American people wanted the government to do something. A Republican Congressman stated: “The
house is burning down, and the President of the United States says this is the way to put out the fire.”
The Emergency Banking Act ratified the actions Roosevelt had taken on March 5th, provided a
mechanism for reopening the sound banks, and it gave the president broad powers to get the system
back on its feet.
On March 10th, some banks reopened and on March 12th, Roosevelt delivered the first of many radio
fireside chats. In this chat, he assured citizens that its remaining banks were sound and that there was
not a need to panic. Columnist Walter Lippman commented: “In one week the nation, which had lost
confidence in everything and everybody, has regained confidence in the government and itself.” Within
twelve months, more than twelve thousand banks, holding 90 percent of the nations deposits,
reopened, and bankers were astounded to discover deposits topped withdrawals.
The successful resolution of the banking crisis set precedents:
1. It established public confidence in the new administration
2. Demonstrated to conservatives that Roosevelt wanted to rehabilitate the existing American
system, not impose a new one
Between March 9th and June 16th, Congress approved and the president signed most of the legislation
(could be called experimentation) that formed the basis for the first New Deal.
Roosevelt had confidence in himself and believed things would work out. He had the utmost confidence
in the strength of the country’s values and institutions. This made him willing to consider almost any
proposal for reform as long as it did not involved junking the system entirely.
While FDR fully appreciated the seriousness of the depression, he was certain that sooner or later, the
economy would recover. In the short term he focused on using federal funds to generate more
economic activity. In the long term, he focused on passing laws and devising regulations that would
prevent the worst mistakes of the 1920s from every being repeated.
During the campaign, Roosevelt had gone along with party platform, calling for spending cuts and a
balanced budget. Once in office, he realized these would not be enough. The New Deal developed
through trial and error. Policies were changed until one worked.
Eight days after his first fireside chat, Roosevelt signed the Economy Act. This fulfilled a campaign
promise to cut federal salaries and cut the cost of government overhead. Two days later, Congress
amended the Volstead Act (Prohibition). This legalized beer and wine while state legislatures considered
the repeal of Prohibition entirely.
March 31st, the Reforestation Relief Act was passed and it established the Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC). This program carried out reforestation, irrigation, and flood control projects. This immediately
created 250,000 jobs for young men between 18 and 25. They lived in army style camps, and the
government sent a portion of their paycheck home to help their struggling families.
In April, the country was taken off the gold standard. Not backed by U.S. gold reserves caused the dollar
to fall sharply in international trading. However, at home it stimulated the domestic economy by making
money cheaper and more plentiful.
May 12th, the Federal Emergency Relief Act was passed. During the last seven months of 1933, FERA
distributed $1.5 Billion to seventeen million impoverished Americans so they could feed and clothe
themselves. Conservatives were shocked and accused the administration of making rash decisions.
Conservatives continued to believe that in the long run, the economy would correct itself without
expensive government programs. A cabinet member commented: “People don’t’ eat in the long run.
They eat every day.”
The Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed on the same day as FERA. Its purpose was to control the
tendency of farmers to combat declining prices by increasing production. The Agricultural Adjustment
Administration paid farmers to stop growing under priced crops and to not send certain types of
livestock to market.
While everyone suffered during this time, it was worse in the Tennessee River Valley. One reason was
the area had been poor before the collapse of the economy. Almost every year an average of fifty inches
of rain fell causing the Tennessee River to flood. This made it difficult to grow crops. Also, there was
little industry to supply jobs. Incomes were less than half the national average.
On May 18th, Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
The TVA was an independent public corporation authorized by Congress to build dams along the
Tennessee River and its tributaries. These dams were to control floods and power new hydroelectric
plants. People believed the generating of cheap electricity would promote industrial growth, jobs, and a
higher standard of living.
On June 16th the last of the Hundred Days, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was
an attempt to bring together government, labor, and management to work on economic recovery.
The National Recovery Administration had the power to suspend antitrust laws in order to facilitate
improved economic planning. This meant ending price competition. The administration was prepared to
sacrifice competition for market stability, higher profit, and more take home pay.
A code of fair competition was drawn up for each major U.S. industry. Under these codes, price fixing
became legal in exchange for increasing wages, ending child labor, and recognizing the collective
bargaining rights of workers. A majority were developed with input from labor and management. When
an industry refused to cooperate, the NRA imposed a code of its own devising.
This act also created the Public Works Administration. This program provided construction jobs in the
public sector. The PWA spent over five billion dollars constructing sewage and water works, public
housing, power stations, and airports in addition to the many bridges, tunnels, and dams constructed by
A major threat to Roosevelt and the new programs came from a Louisiana senator, Huey P. Long. He
argued the New Deal had not gone far enough. Conservatives argued Roosevelt had gone too far. In
August 1934, they organized the American Liberty League to rally the right. Initially financed by the
Dupont family, it soon had enthusiastic support from senior management at General Motors, General
Foods, and Montgomery Ward. The membership was largely Republican yet, it included two noteworthy
Democrats; John W. Davis, the 1924 presidential candidate, and Alfred E. Smith, the 1928 nominee.
Because of the criticism, the New Dealers fully expected to lose about forty seats in the House in the
1934 midterm elections. This did not happen. In both the House and the Senate, the Democrats gained 9
The Supreme Court however, was overwhelmingly Republican. It took two years for the first New Deal
litigation to reach the Supreme Court. On May 27, 1935 the Court handed down a decision favoring a
small poultry company in Brooklyn, New York. Afterward, the administration proposed new legislation
while remembering the justices would eventually rule on it.
New Deal Programs
Emergency Banking Act – Passed on March 9, 1933, ratified the actions taken by Roosevelt on March 5th,
provided a mechanism for reopening the sound banks, and gave the president broad powers to get the
system back on its feet.
Economy Act – Fulfilled campaign promise to cut federal salaries and cut the cost of government
Prohibition Act (Volstead Act) – Legalized beer and wine while state legislatures considered the repeal of
March 31, 1933 – Reforestation Relief Act passed
Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) – established by Reforestation Relief Act; CCC carried out reforestation,
irrigation, and flood control projects, crated 250,000 jobs for young men between 18 and 25, lived in
army style camps, and government sent a portion of their paychecks home to help their struggling
April 1933, country taken off gold standard
May 12, 1933 – Federal Emergency Relief Act was passed. During last seven (7) months of 1933, FERA
distributed billions to impoverished Americans to feed and clothe themselves and their families.
May 12, 1933 – Agricultural Adjustment Act 0 purpose was to control tendency of farmers to combat
declining prices by increasing production. Farmers were paid to stop growing under priced crops and to
not send certain types of livestock to market.
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) – Independent public corporation, authorized by Congress to build
dams along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. Dams were to control floods and power new
June 16, 1933 0 National Recovery Administration – Power to suspend anti-trust laws
Public Works Administration (PWA) – Provided Construction Jobs in the public sector, spent money to
construct sewage and water works, public housing, power stations, and airports in addition to bridges,
tunnels, and dams
FDIC and Social Security established during the New Deal.
Video – Black Aviators: Flying Free
o Accepted into the French flight school, could not have done this in the United States
o Known as ‘The Black Swallow of Death”
o Became part of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American pilots flying combat
under French command
o Downed two German planes in first combat mission
o Flew at least 20 combat missions for the French
o When America entered the war and he returned, his reception by the American military
o White American pilots would not fly with a black man
o Bullard was denied officer status
o Was not allowed to fly
o By seeking his destiny in France, he had become the first black pilot in the world
o Faced discrimination not only against her race, but against her sex
o Born in Texas, one of 12-13 children in her family
o At 18, enrolled in a black university, but after one term lack of funds forced her to
abandon her hopes of a higher education
o Moved to Chicago, became interested in flying
o Was a manicurist at the White Sox barber shop where she met influential people
o There she met Robert Abbot, publisher of the Chicago Defender
o Abbot wished to help her, partly because he was interested in aviation, partly because
she would be a good story for his newspaper
o Not surprisingly, every flight school she applied to in America turned her down.
o She also chose to go to France (the first time) to learn to fly
o She returned to America and earned her license in 1921
o She wanted to open a school for other African Americans
o She is on record as saying, “I want to turn Uncle Tom’s Cabin into a hangar.”
o She began performing as a stunt pilot to fund her dream
o There were a few black pilots that flew in white air shows, but for the most part air
shows were segregated.
o She used her popularity to help other black aviators
o From 1922 on, she refused to fly unless the air show was integrated
o Bessie and the other black pilots rarely had access to quality airplanes and equipment
o In many instances, black pilots were building their own airplanes
o In 1924 flying an inferior plane, Bessie stalled and crashed
o Her injuries from the crash prevented her from flying for two years
o In 1926 she was back in the air, continuing to try and raise money to open a flight school
o Again flying inferior equipment, she was to perform a parachute drop in an air show
o The plane went out of control, she was not wearing her seatbelt, fell out, and plunged
over 500 feet to her death
o Her influence is felt to this day. Each year on the anniversary of her death, pilots fly low
over her grave in Chicago and drop flowers
o In 1995, she was commemorated by the issuance of a postage stamp in her honor, as
the first black woman to pilot an airplane
After World War I
o Aviation entered a ‘golden age’, characterized by Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across
the Atlantic in 1927
o However, for black Americans it was still a world that was virtually closed, but a few
blacks were beginning to fly
o After Bessie Coleman’s death, black flying clubs began to appear in Los Angeles and
o It was the era of the barnstormer, daring, risk-taking flyers and stunt pilots
Hubert Fauntleroy Julian
o One of the most famous black barnstormers in the 1920s and 30s
o His flamboyance and outrageous adventures kept him in the headlines
o Julian was known as ‘The Black Eagle of Harlem’
o Julian did many things that captured the attention of not only the black press, but also
the mainstream press
o Jumped out of an airplane over Harlem one time in a multi-colored cape
o He quickly established himself as the premier black aviator in the 20s and 30s
o Like most black aviators of that time, he had been forced to go outside the United States
to learn how to pilot an airplane
o He learned how to fly in Canada from Billy Bishop, a famous World War 1 pilot
o One of the first black pilots to be issued a license
o He was something of a disappointment to other black aviators of the time, as he was
always full of big plans but rarely able to make them happen
o He announced 3 years ahead of Lindbergh that he would be the first man to make a
o On July 4, 1924 many came to the shores of the Harlem river to watch as The Black Eagle
o Five minutes after takeoff, he and his plane were fished out of Flushing Bay
o He was back in the news in 1930 when he made a well publicized trip to Africa
o He wanted to help Haile Sallisi (Emperor of Ethiopia) fight the Italian Army
o ‘Colonel’ Julian became a one-man Ethiopian Air Force, until he crashed the plan
o He took Emperor Sallisi’s plane up without permission. It was supposed to be used in a
o Even though many of his wild ideas ended in failure, he inspired many young black
Americans to want to become pilots
o One such individual was William Powell
o Born in Chicago in 1897
o A college educated engineer, he understood that aviation would offer an important
opportunity for black Americans
o He wanted to begin to establish the credibility of blacks as pilots, mechanics,
o Felt aviation was so new, that blacks might be able to get in early before it was
consumed with segregationist thinking
o In 1929 in memory of Bessie Coleman, Powell organized the Bessie Coleman Aero Club
in Los Angeles
o Goal was to teach young blacks aviation, so they could be involved in all aspects of the
o In 1931, Powell organized the first all black air show
o The star of this show was James Herman Banning
James Herman Banning
o Licensed in 1926, when America first began licensing pilots
o Wanted to be the first black to make a cross country flight
o Before he could, he and his co-pilot Thomas Allen would need an airplane
o Managed to acquire a used airplane
o They took off in September of 1932 with $25 and some SunMaid raisins
o They called themselves ‘The Flying Hobos’
o Would stop and use opportunities in local churches to seek financial support for their
o They landed in Saint Louis with engine problems (valves)
o A local mechanic instructor told them that a 1928 Nash had similar valves, and they
found one of those and changed out the valves and continued their journey
o Landed in Long Island as heroes
o Given key to city by Mayor Jimmy Walker
o Celebrated at the Cotton Club
o Banning was killed in an air show
o His sponsor William Powell was saddened, but continued to press for more black
involvement in aviation through his publications
o Powell died in 1942 with the bulk of his dreams unrealized
o The need for pilots was great in 1941 when America entered World War II
o Blacks were excluded from the Air Force except as waiters in the canteen (mess hall)
o To protest the lack of black pilots, the NAACP (National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People) and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (largest
black union in the nation) threatened to march on Washington
o The War Office relented, and a black college in Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute, was
commissioned to begin training black Americans as fighter pilots
o War department officials were skeptical about the program’s ability to succeed, and
labeled it ‘The Tuskegee Experiment’
o There was concern about what effect an all black squadron would have on the morale of
white pilots and troops
o The men in the program at Tuskegee were of the highest caliber
o Trained by white pilots, some who wanted to be there and were fair, and some who
o Base commander Colonel Noel Parrish did believe that African Americans should have a
chance, and made sure they were treated fairly
o Lack of funds to rebuild the runway threatened to shut down the program
o Mrs. Roosevelt (FDRs wife, Eleanor) was in Tuskegee for a meeting and heard the blacks
o She went to chief pilot and asked to take a ride with one of the black pilots
o As a result of her ride, the institute was given the money for the new runway. She and
the president became good supporters of the Tuskegee program
o By March of 1942, hundreds of black pilots at Tuskegee had received their wings
o The Tuskegee Airmen formed the 99th Fighter Squadron, which later became part of the
all black 332nd Fighter Group
o To lead the 332nd, the Army Air Corps chose recent Tuskegee graduate Benjamin O.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
o Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. came from an Army family.
o He was the first African American graduate of West Point in the 20th century
o Davis was given the ‘silent treatment’ for his four years at West Point
o The hardships he endured at West Point strengthened him, and by the time he
graduated from Tuskegee he was ready to assume the role of a leader
o Under Davis’s command, the Tuskegee Airmen would undergo extensive combat
o By June of 1943, they were in battle over Italy, supporting Allied ground troops and
harassing enemy supply lines
o In July of 1943, the Airmen faced their first test in air to air combat with a group of
o Lt. Charles Hall turned into the formation and took out the first German plane
o Two more German planes were shot down before they broke combat
o A biased report was circulated in Washington that questioned the airmen’s efficiency in
battle, and suggested ‘the Tuskegee Experiment’ be abandoned.
o Colonel Davis was called back to Washington to explain why the 99th shouldn’t be taken
out of combat
o His arguments against the plan to pull them back triggered an investigation which
concluded that the 99th had performed as well as every other squadron in the Air Force,
and would continue to fight
o In January 1944, they would face their biggest battles over the Anzio beachhead in Sicily,
spotting 15 German fighters dive bombing Allied ships
o They attacked and shot down 5 planes, and later in the day scored 3 more kills
o The next day, they would bring down four more.
o They also distinguished themselves flying bomber escort into enemy territory
o Also called the ‘Red Tails’ because of distinctive markings on their planes, they earned a
reputation as the best bomber escorts of the war
o They were the only escort group in World War II, never to lose a bomber
o Between 1941 and 1946, a total of 992 Tuskegee Airmen were trained
o They flew 1578 missions
o In all, they destroyed over 500 enemy aircraft, and received the Distinguished Unit
Citation for outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism
o Broadly, the success of the Tuskegee Airmen led to Harry Truman’s executive order in
1948 desegregating the armed forces
o During World War II, 66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action
After World War II
o Black veterans of World War II returned to find that many of the freedoms they had
fought for were still not extended to them
o Disembarking from the troop ships, found exits at the bottom for whites only, and
separate ones for blacks
o None of the 992 Tuskegee Airmen were able to get a job in commercial aviation after
o Roscoe Brown, Tuskegee Airman, applied to Eastern Airlines but found out the secretary
had thrown away his application.
o Although Mr. Brown went on to become a leader in American education, his dream of a
flying career would never be realized because of racism
o Many black Americans who wanted to become pilots, but for whom commercial
aviation was not available, turned to the military for pilot work and training
Frank Peterson (Three-star General, U.S. Marine Corps)
o The Korean conflict in the 1950s created a need for aviators
o Although the military bases were cleared of most blatant forms of segregation, civilians
working on base were still resentful.
o Many of the old segregation things such as white only seating on public transportation
was still the norm once you got off base, still white only drinking fountains, eating
o Peterson faced discrimination, even from his flight instructor
o Obstacles were often put in place by some to prevent blacks from achieving their goals,
specifically to become an aviator for Peterson
o Peterson was ready to give up, until a chance meeting with another black officer and
pilot changed his mind
o Peterson met Daniel ‘Chappy’ James, who had been a Tuskegee Airman during WW II
o He rose rapidly in the military to become the first black four star General
o Chappy encouraged Peterson to stick it out
o Although Peterson completed his training, the prejudice continued
o When he went to the officer’s canteen for the first time, he was arrested for
impersonating an officer
o At the age of 21, Peterson became the first black American to fly for the Marine Corps
when he entered the Korean conflict
o Peterson went on to fly more than 64 combat missions in Korea
o He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and six (6) air medals
o After Korea, Peterson continued in the Marines. By the time of the Viet Nam conflict he
had attained the rank of Lt. Colonel, and was a Squadron Commander flying the F4
o In these sophisticated machines, the battle started ‘over the horizon’ before you could
even see the enemy
o Peterson and his co-pilot were shot down during a bombing run over North Viet Nam
o Punched out just back over the South Viet Nam border
o Saw the enemy coming for them, when a rescue helicopter came for him
o “That was the day I earned my flight pay”
o Promoted to General in 1978
o When he retired 10 years later, had not only become the Defense Department’s senior
ranking aviator, but also the only black three-star General in the Marine Corps
o Says that while it is something to be proud of, it is a two-edged sword in that there is
still a long way to go
America’s Space Program
o In the early 1960s, the United States was making its first attempts at outer space, yet
America’s astronaut program remained exclusively white
o It would take 15 years before the first black aviators were given their chance in the
o In 1978, Ron McNair, Guion Bluford, and Frederick Gregory were among the 34 men and
1 woman selected as astronauts
o 10,000 people applied for these 35 positions
o Bluford was born in Philadelphia, is a scientist with an advanced degree in Aerospace
o Also a veteran combat pilot in Viet Nam
o He and fellow veteran Frederick Gregory trained together to become astronauts
o In 1983, Bluford became the first black American to fly into space aboard an American
o Ronald McNair was aboard the shuttle Challenger when it exploded shortly after launch
o In 1989 Frederick Gregory became the first black Commander of a shuttle mission
o While black aviators have been able to climb the ladder to success in the military,
commercial aviation still remains largely white
o In Washington DC, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum features and exhibit
recounting the struggle and successes of black American aviators
o It is called ‘Black Wings’
o Black Americans were the only group singled out for discrimination and exclusion from
Black Aviators Handout – Test Questions Will Come from Here
Black Aviators have been around since World War I
The first was Eugene Bullard who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion
Bullard attended flight school in France and was the first African American pilot in the
Bessie Coleman was the first African American female aviator. She learned to fly in
France. She wanted to open a flight school for blacks.
William Powell believed aviation offered an important opportunity to blacks.
Hubert Julian was known as the Black Eagle of Harlem. He wanted to establish the
credibility of blacks as aviators and businessmen.
James Herman Banning was the first African American pilot to be licensed in America.
Blacks were excluded from the Air Force.
Benjamin O. Davis was the first African American graduate of West Point.
After World War II, black veterans did not enjoy the freedoms they had fought to
There were 982 Tuskegee Airmen.
Frank Petersen is a retired 3 star Marine Corp General.
Guion Bluford is the first African American to journey into space.
Frederick Gregory was the first African American to command a shuttle mission.
At the time of this program, there were about 750 African American pilots in the field of
commercial aviation. That is less than 1% of the total number (80,000) of commercial
They are the only group singled out for discrimination and excluded from the field of
During World War II the allied forces were plagued with code breakage. The opposing forces were
capable of breaking the codes and this compromised military personnel and military campaigns.
The Armed Forces discovered American Indians possessed a unique weapon – their language.
The Army’s Communication branch, the Signal Corps, needed a way to transmit information from the
battlefield – quickly. The encoding and decoding of messages caused a delay.
The standard process slowed rapid communication and Axis forces were very skilled at breaking the
codes of the Allies.
While the Air Corps and the Navy did not see a need for code talks in their respective branches, the
Army and Marine Corps did.
Actions on the ground depended upon quick relay of orders and information. A language alien to all
others in the world and spoken by few would prove valuable on the battlefield.
The War Department never fully grasped the importance of the code talks. The Marine Corps did.
The corps developed a program that became an essential element of combat operations. A civilian
suggested this program.
Philip Johnston was the son of a Protestant missionary. He had lived among the Navajos for over twenty
years and had become fluent in their language. He spoke with Major James E. Jones, Force
Communications Officer at Camp Elliot in Sand Diego. Johnston believed use of the Navajo language
would aid the Allies in their transmission of information.
According to Johnston, the Navajo language was unlike the languages spoken by other American Indians.
There were fewer than a dozen anthropologists who had studied the language. Even German scholars
who had visited American Indian communities in the 1930s had ignored the Navajo language. This group
of anthropologists included Dr. Colin Ross, the Nazi propagandist.
The original group of code talks was recruited from boarding schools at Fort Defiance, Shiprock, and Fort
After developing a code, the Navajo radio operators began applying the code to military maneuvers.
Training included transmitting messages as if they were in the midst of battle. Skilled white radio
operators were unable to translate the code as were untrained Navajo speakers.
There were twenty-nine original Navajo recruits. Two remained at Fort Elliot as instructors, while the
other twenty-seven departed for the Pacific.
Code talkers were often sent out on reconnaissance missions behind Japanese lines. This placed them in
great danger if captured by American forces who mistook them for Japanese. (Reconnaissance:
exploration of an area to gather military information.)
The code talkers proved to be efficient and the Marine Corps ordered the recruitment of more Navajos.
When World War II ended, 450 Navajos had been trained and all but thirty saw action in the Pacific.
Eight were killed.
The program the Army tried to develop was not successful. Instead of recruiting American Indians who
shared a language and culture, the Army grouped Comanche, Chippewa, Cherokee, and Choctaw
together. When the program failed, the American Indians were blamed, not the Army’s method of
When World War II ended, eight hundred American Indians had served with the Marines. Four hundred
of that number served as code talkers. This number represents only those who maintained their
American Indian identity, or whose ancestry was known and listed by the military and the Bureau of
The nation awarded thirty-four Distinguished Flying Crosses, fifty-one Silver Stars, forty-seven Bronze
Stars, and two Medals of Honor. Five hundred and fifty American Indians were killed and over seven
hundred were wounded.
Taking the history of interaction between American Indians and the United States, some people may
wonder why American Indians would fight to defend the country that had robbed them of their land,
tried to destroy their culture and annihilate their people. In the words of Albert Smith, a Navajo code
talker: “this conflict involved Mother Earth being dominated by foreign countries. It was our
responsibility to defend her.”
True Whispers – The Video about the Navajo Code Talkers
Scene opens to the front gate of St. Catherine’s Indian School.
Children were stolen from their families and sent to school.
If they spoke Navajo at work they were punished
They were referred to as savages
They were told not to say anything at all
Bush said this was the story of an ancient people called to serve in a modern war
The Navajo called their native language one of their most powerful and sacred things
The Navajo reservation is approximately 17 million acres, spreading across parts of Arizona, New
Mexico, and Utah
The reservation includes their ancestral home, and the sacred mountains which they and their
holy people consider to be a living thing
The Navajo, also called Diné (meaning ‘the people’), are believed to be descended from the
ancient Anasazi cliff dwellers settling thousands of years ago in their current homeland
They are a peaceful people; sheepherders, weavers, farmers, and dedicated spiritually to
Mother Earth living in their traditional way
They were very self-sufficient, living in peace and harmony. Or as the Navajo would say, living in
‘the Beauty Way’
Their harmonious world was disrupted in 1863 when the United States government forced the
Navajo off their homeland
The Diné people refer to this as ‘The Long Walk’
Driven for over 300 miles in the desert heat at gunpoint
Walked to a place called ‘Bosque Redondo’ where they were interned for four (4) years before
they were allowed to return
Their only crime was being born a Navajo
They were often treated cruelly; not allowed to rest, women giving birth in route were shot
The Diné people hated being relocated, and in 1868 agreed to give up a large portion of their
original land holdings in exchange for a smaller reservation
A requirement of this treaty mandated that all Navajo children forcibly be enrolled in
government schools for the purpose of assimilation
Some of these children that were taken from their families and placed in the government
schools went on to become the Code Talkers during World War II
Children were often punished if caught speaking or singing in the Navajo language
The Navajo people characterize this effort as ‘cultural genocide’
In the 1930s when the Depression loomed, the U.S. government delivered another serious blow
to the Navajo people
The Stock Reduction Program designed to prevent over-grazing, mandated the slaughter of
herds of sheep and other livestock belonging to the Navajo
The results were crippling to the already poor living conditions of the Navajo, increasing poverty
For the 75 years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, United States policy focused on the
elimination of Navajo customs, culture, and language
As the conflict in the Southwest Pacific escalated, it became clear that there was a serious flaw
in the U. S. military’s defense
The Japanese were breaking every code the U.S. used to send important and strategic
The Japanese had a group of elite, well-trained and English speaking soldiers used to intercept
The U.S. code became more and more complex in an effort to defeat the code-breaking efforts
of the Japanese
Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary, had grown up on a Navajo reservation and learned to
speak the difficult language
Hearing of the military’s problem, he first brought the idea of a Navajo code to the Marines in
During World War I, the Comanche and Choctaw languages were used in Europe to encode
Philip Johnston who served in the U.S. Army during World War I, knew of this program
Johnston wrote a letter about the Navajos to General Clayton B. Vogel, who sent it to
Commandant Thomas Halcomb (sp?) to evaluate
During World War II, the same government that broke so many treaties with the Navajo, came
to them and asked their assistance. This is where the Code Talkers began
The Navajo likely did not agree to fight in the war to defend the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of
Rights. More likely, they saw themselves as defending Mother Earth and their traditional way of
When one of the young Navajo was recruited into the U.S. military, they had to have a
Protection Way ceremony
The Protection Way ceremony is calling in the natural spirits to protect an individual while they
carry out an assigned task
The Protection Prayer is done first, then the Purification, then the Journey. During the night they
sing the journey and protection sounds
They give you some corn pollen in a ceremony, and may also give you an arrowhead or some
kind of paraphernalia that you keep inside your clothes somewhere. These are items that
Corn pollen is used for communication with the holy people, praying with the pollen on the
tongue, thinking, putting the pollen on the forehead, and travel into the future, dusting their
path with it
It is an offering to the holy people
In May of 1942, the first 29 of 200 requested Navajo recruits attended boot camp
For many, it was the first time away from their reservation, their families, and their culture
Carl Gorman, a Code Talker, was part of a pilot group to see if developing a code was feasible
Commanding officer George T. Hall of the San Diego Marine base where the initial recruits were
sent, said of them, “These magnificent specimens of original American manhood are already
further advanced than troops usually are with so few training days to their credit. All are of
sturdy stock and take well to this type of discipline and military instruction. Their progress has
been highly satisfactory.”
The Navajos were asked to create a code using their language, devising words using the 26
letters of the English alphabet, and learn key military terminology.
They had to be fluent in English and Navajo, and be able to transmit in Morse Code.
After graduation from boot camp, most went to a highly secret Navajo code school
The Navajo recruits designed an ingenious and complex code, assigning Navajo words to terms,
places, and officer’s names, as well as alternating 3 or 4 different Navajo words for each letter
of the English alphabet
In order to avoid duplication and repetition which could lead to deciphering, they actually
memorized three different sets of the code
As the Japanese were advancing rapidly, the Code Talkers were deployed to the South Pacific
where they used their language to transmit vital messages during the heat of combat
The Code Talkers were placed in pairs, initially assigned to only a few Marine divisions
In their first mission, the battle of Guadalcanal, the Code Talkers were instrumental in securing
possession of the island
Because of their remarkable success on Guadalcanal, Marine field commanders from all six
divisions requested the Code Talkers
Demand increased, and approximately 400 additional Navajos were recruited into the program
These new Code Talkers had to learn the established codes, plus expand, improve, modify, and
update the code
Finally, the Navajos had to commit the entire code to memory
Following Guadalcanal, the Code Talkers served in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in
the Pacific, including Bougainville, Saipan, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tarawa.
Their language became the weapon the U.S. needed, securing these strategic locations
The U.S. wanted to take possession of a small island called Iwo Jima. From there, they would
have a strategic location from which to launch direct bombing attacks on Japan.
Eliminating Japan’s control of Iwo Jima, was the U.S.’s single most important mission to ensure
U. S. safety in the South Pacific
The Code Talkers not only distinguished themselves with their language, but also as warriors,
often being among the first to hit the beachheads when they landed under heavy fire.
To the Japanese leadership, the U.S. capture of Iwo Jima would mean an invasion into Japan
Consequently, they fortified the island with a garrison of 22,000 troops hidden in 1500 well
designed underground tunnels
Over 100 Navajo Code Talkers were active on the front line at the time of the Marine landing on
the island considered the most strongly fortified in the Pacific
Historians describe the U.S. forces attack against the Japanese defenses on Iwo Jima as
“throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete.”
One out of every three Marines who landed was a casualty
The Marines secured the island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd. completing possession on March
The Marines raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi
The fighting that took place during the 36 days of conflict would be immortalized as the
bloodiest battle of World War II
Instructed to fight to the death, 20,000 of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers were killed
American casualties numbered 26,000, with nearly 7,000 dead
700 Marines gave their lives for every square mile of Iwo Jima
The U.S. victory in this horrific battle, allowed approximately 2,400 American B-29 bombers to
use the crucial airfield, including the Enola Gay which carried the fateful atomic bomb to
Following Iwo Jima, the Code Talkers served in every campaign of the war including Okinawa
Four Navajo Code Talkers were killed at Iwo Jima, and ten Code Talkers during all of World War
II, despite the fact that many of the 429 Code Talkers were on the front lines
At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Carter, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer, said that were it not for the
Navajo Code Talkers the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima
The Japanese Chief of Intelligence Lt. General Seizo Arisue said that while at times they were
able to break the codes used by other armed services, they were never able to break the codes
used by the Marines and the Navajos
By the end of the war, the Code Talkers had served in all six of the Marine divisions, Marine
raider battalions, and Marine parachute units
Unfortunately after the war, most Navajo Code Talkers returned to their reservation without
medals, or awards for their battles, little to no elevated military rank, and lacked access to
Returning Navajo veterans failed to receive adequate attention from the United States
Access to military benefits has proven difficult. To this day, Navajos are still lobbying to have a
veterans clinic built closer to the reservation
The Navajos cultural belief of the comingling of spirits within our world made their participation
in the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theatre physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging
Navajos believe that when you kill someone, that someone’s spirit follows you
Navajo medicine men used nature and performed the Enemy Way to help rid returning Navajo
veterans of the evil spirits, and the soul of the following individual
The Code Talkers had to maintain secrecy over the following two decades after the war.
Initially, the government decided to keep the Code Talkers and their code Top Secret in the
event that it might be needed again
These unsung heroes had to remain quiet, their courageous deeds unknown even to their
families and friends, and to the nation they helped save
In 1968 the code was declassified, and yet proper recognition was a long time coming for the
A few local ceremonies and parades, President Ronald Regan declared 8/14/1982 National Code
A small display was installed in the Pentagon in 1993, and a GI Joe action figure was created
In 2001, nearly 60 years after their service, the Code Talkers were awarded Congressional gold
and silver medals for their outstanding service during World War II
Of the original 29, only five were still living and only four were able to attend
The ceremony drew families, dignitaries, military personnel, and the Commander in Chief
President George W. Bush
Conditions on the reservation are still below what most communities would consider acceptable
Open and abandoned uranium mines pose health hazards
To this day, the treaty agreement remains unfulfilled
The unemployment rate on the reservation is six times the national average
Tribal family members earn an average annual income of less than $12,000.00, or two-thirds
lower than the average for the rest of the country
In the traditional Navajo way of forgiveness, healing, and coming full circle there have been
some positive changes, possibly due to the valor of the Navajo Code Talkers.
Quiz #2 Given on October 21
True or False (Correct answers only are shown highlighted in bold text.
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated “We have nothing to fear but fear itself/”
2. On Roosevelt’s Inauguration Day, the banking system was not collapsing
3. Out of fear, Americans left their money in banks to keep it safe.
4. By late 1932, the rate of savings withdrawals had incrased dramatically.
5. To avoid collapse, New York closed its banks
6. On Inauguration Day, the United States was in the depths of the worst financial crisis ever.
7. Bank runs were easy to stop
8. No one questioned the legality of the four day closing of the banks
9. Roosevelt believed things would work out
10. During the 1920 presidential campaign, Warren G. Harding promised a return to normalcy.
Multiple Choice (Correct answers only are shown in highlighted bold text
1. Supreme Court justice William Howard Taft believed he was:
a. Strike down many of the laws passed during the Wilson years
2. Harding had
a. Conservative values and a down home personality
3. Calvin Coolidge believed the presidency should
a. Defer passively to Congress
4. Who wrote The Man Nobody Knew?
a. Bruce Barton
5. The chair of the Federal Trade Commission, William T. Humphrey, believed the work of his
agency to be
a. Oppressive and socialistic
6. Buying on margin entailed
a. Borrowing money from a stock broker
7. Who claimed the Republican Party had brought the U.S. close to a “final triumph over
a. Herbert Hoover
8. Long before the stock market crash, there were indications the economy was in trouble. Which
of the following was not one of those indicators?
a. Nation’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very few people
b. Rate of saving was low
c. Workers who lost their jobs could plunge from middle-class to poverty
d. None of the above
9. What was reported in 1931?
a. Deaths from starvation
10. Who stated “The chief business of the American people is business”?
a. Calvin Coolidge
The Tuskegee Airmen (November 2, 2010 Lecture)
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed
forces. The American military and much of the federal government was racially segregated. They were
subject to racial discrimination both in and outside of the military.
The airmen trained and flew with distinction but, they never served in combat. They were used as
bomber escorts in Europe. They were very successful in these missions. They painted the tails of their
planes red and this led to the nickname “Red Tails”. Bomber crews called them the ‘Red Tail Angels’.
Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African Americans were allowed to become United States military
The flight program at Tuskegee was five months old when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited. She flew
with C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, an African American chief civilian instructor. Her visit and flight drew
attention to the program. Eleanor Roosevelt helped to arrange a loan of $175,000.00. This money was
used to purchase land for Moton Field.
The Tuskegee program began in June 1941. Initially, those in charge expected personnel to number
around 500. But by 1942, six times that number were stationed at Tuskegee.
The Tuskegee Army Airfield was built by African American contractors McKissack and McKissack, Inc. The
contractors were in charge of the contract. They, along with 2000 workmen from their company, the
Alabama Works Progress Administration and the United States Army completed the field in six months.
During training, the 99th Fighter Squadron was led by white officers. This was a War Department
requirement. The first commander was Major James Ellison. Ellison was transferred on January 12, 1942.
It is thought he was removed because he insisted his African American sentries and the Military Police
had authority over local white citizens.
Required technical training opened doors for African American members of the military. Until 1945,
African American men were trained as aviation medical examiners through correspondence courses. In
1943, two black physicians were admitted to the United States Army School of Aviation Medicine at
Randolph Field, Texas. This program was one of the earliest integrated courses in the United States
The Tuskegee Airmen were not readily accepted by white members of the Army. Some officers tried to
disband the unit. Congressional hearings were held with this goal in mind. However, while in Sicily the
Airmen were awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. This ended plans for disbanding the squadron.
Strict segregation did not take place only in the South. The home field for the 477th was Selfridge Field
located outside Detroit. The commanding officer, Frank O’Driscoll Hunter, was a strong segregationist. A
line was drawn in the theater and seating according to race was ordered.
Lieutenant Milton Henry, an African American, entered the only officer’s club on base. He demanded to
be served. He was court martialed and discharged.
The 477th was transferred to Goldman Field, Kentucky. On and off the base things were strictly
segregated. A laundry in town refused to wash the airmen’s clothes while willingly laundering those
belonging to captured German soldiers.
The Tuskegee Airmen possess a good record. There is not a consensus however concerning the loss of
escorted bombers. Some records indicate a loss of twenty-five (25) while others indicate no loss at all.
After the war ended, it was accepted by many that the training at Tuskegee had resulted in some of the
best pilots in the United States Army Corps. However, they continued to be harassed by other units.
Segregation in the military ended in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981.
World War II Years
In September 1940, the Japanese government signed a Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. This
meant that each country pledged to attack any nation that attacked any of the Axis Powers.
In August 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill drew up the Atlantic Charter. This charter called for the self
determination of all peoples, equal access to the seas, and a new general security system. In September,
fifteen anti-Axis nations endorsed the statement.
American powers expected war in the southwest Pacific, but they did not expect Japan to attack Pearl
On a sleepy Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Japan launched a massive attack on Pearl Harbor.
On December 8, FDR delivered his war message to Congress:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was
suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” (infamy: evil fame
or reputation; an evil or criminal act that is publicly known.)
Except for the vote of a pacifist, Jeannette Rankin, Congress unanimously supported the war resolution.
The Tripartite Pact was supposed to be for defense only, but Hitler had become impatient. This was
caused by U.S. aid to Britain. On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United
States. American isolationism had abruptly ended.
The attack on Pearl Harbor placed the U.S. in a war that would cost 400,000 American lives. It changed
the country’s social and economic life. It changed the United States position in world affairs. World War
II was the most destructive and far-reaching conflict in history.
More than 50 million deaths worldwide were attributed to the war. Nations were torn apart and
societies changed. According to the authors of the text, the world is still dealing with the consequences
of the war.
Roosevelt wanted to pay for the war with taxes instead of borrowing. Congress however, was
dominated by conservatives and they feared taxes more than deficits.
In 1942, the Revenue Act was passed. This supplied about $7 billion in increased revenue. This amount
was less than half of the amount recommended by the Treasury. While in 1939, only 4 million people
filed tax returns, this act forced everyone to pay.
It was no longer a problem of finding work, but of locating workers for the shipyards, aircraft factories,
and gun powder mills. Most of those not in the military enjoyed a better life. The Office of Price
Administration (OPA) set price limits. Goods were given out via a rationing program. Ration coupons
were used to procure sugar, coffee, gasoline, auto tires, and meats.
War prosperity allowed farmers to charge more for food and workers to seek higher wages. The
Stabilization Act of 1942 gave the president the power to control farm prices and wages. In the spring of
1943, coal miners struck. Congress passed the Smith-Connolly War Labor Disputes Act. This allowed the
government to take plants that were necessary to the war. In 1944, Arkansas and Florida passed ‘right
to work’ legislation. Other states followed suit. This legislation outlawed the closed shop (where all
workers were required to join the union)
Social Effects of World War II
Between 1940 and 1950, almost 8 million people moved west of the Mississippi River.
Women’s roles also changed. Close to 200,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and
the naval counterpart – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).
More than 6 million women entered the workforce. They worked as toolmakers, machinists, crane
operators, lumberjacks, stevedores, blacksmiths, and railroad track workers. (Stevedore – person
employed to load and unload ships)
By 1944, women were 14% of all workers in shipbuilding and 40% in aircraft plants.
In 1940, 15% of married women worked outside the home. By 1945, this number had risen to 24%.
The participation of African Americans in the defense effort was an explosive issue. Black leaders
demanded full recognition in both the military and defense industries.
About a million African Americans served in the military in segregated units.
During the war, NAACP membership grew from 50,000 to 450,000.
Blacks enjoyed increased political participation after the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s white
The Bracero program was created in 1942. This program allowed Mexico to send seasonal farm workers
to the U.S. as long as the government did not draft them into the military.
Under this program, around 200,000 Mexican farm workers entered the western U.S.
American Indians supported the war effort more than any other group in American society. Almost 1/3
of eligible Native American men, over 25,00 people, served in the armed forces and ¼ worked in the
Thousands of American Indian women volunteered as nurses or joined the WAVES.
American Indian men distinguished themselves in the military. Their most distinctive service was as code
talkers. All branches of the military used Oneida, Chippewa, Sauks, Foxes, Comanches, and Navajos to
code and translate messages.
More than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forced to leave their homes and businesses on
the West Coast. They were sent to live in relocation camps.
Roosevelt was caught up in the war hysteria and racial prejudice that erupted after the attack on Pearl
Harbor. He issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942. This order mandated their removal.
Over 60% were American Citizens and a third was under the age of 19. They were forced to sell their
home and businesses at a loss. Few, if any of them were disloyal, but all of them were victims of fear
Yalta and the Post War World
The Yalta Conference, held in February 1945, brought Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin together.
The goal was to shape the postwar world. Stalin was confident, assertive, demanding, and sarcastic.
Soviet forces controlled key areas that would ensure his demands were met.
Roosevelt had two goals. One was to make certain the Soviet Union joined the war against Japan and he
wanted a united front against German aggressors. The failures to do both of these after World War I
were mistakes to be avoided.
In April 1945, a conference was scheduled to be held in the U.S. where a new world organization would
At Yalta, plans were made for postwar governing of Germany and Austria.
Poland was the focus of Western attention. In 1939 Britain and France had waged war in the defense of
Poland. Now, Poland’s fate was in the hands of the Soviet Union. At Yalta, Churchill, Roosevelt, and
Stalin promised to sponsor free elections, democratic governments, and constitutional safeguards of
Takeovers in Eastern Europe were only postponed for a couple of years. Eventually the Communist
members of coalition governments ousted their opposition.
Eastern European countries did not have strong democratic traditions. Russia had been invaded twice
and it cannot be faulted for wanting buffer states between it and Germany.
End of the War
Unfortunately, the President of the United States did not live to see the war end.
On April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Hitler’s Germany ended less than a month later.
On April 28th, Italian partisans caught and killed Mussolini.
During the siege of Berlin by Soviet forces, Hitler married Eva Braun on the last day of April. After the
ceremony, he killed her and himself.
On May 2, Berlin surrendered to Soviet forces and German forces in Italy also surrendered on the same
On May 7, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces signed an unconditional surrender in Allied
headquarters at Reims, France.
Allied handling of the Holocaust was inept and disgraceful.
The American people had difficulty believing the stories of the death camps. As early as 1942, stories
surfaced in major newspapers but were buried on the inside pages.
American government officials and some Jewish leaders were slow to supply aid. There was great fear
that relief for Jewish refugees would bring anti-Semitism to the surface at home. Roosevelt set up a War
Refugee Board in 1944, but provided few resources for it.
The board did however, rescue close to 200,000 European Jews and about 20,000 others.
Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency when Roosevelt died.
On July 25, 1945 he ordered the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima if Japan did not surrender by
Truman “regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used”
Keep in mind that the bombing of cities and killing civilians had become accepted military practice in
American scientists underestimated the power of the atomic bomb. They believed 20,000 people would
On July 26, the Potsdam Declaration was issued by the governments of Britain, Russia, and the United
States. This declaration demanded the surrender of Japan or face ‘prompt and utter destruction’.
On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber, dropped a 5-ton uranium bomb on Hiroshima. The
time was 8:15am. On August 9th, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
On August 14th, 1945, Japan surrendered.
It is estimated that 70 million people fought in the war.
At least 25 million military personnel and 24 million civilians died.
The Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses. There were 13 million military deaths, over 7 million
civilian deaths, and at least 25 million were left homeless.
World War II cost the U.S. more than any of our other foreign wars. There were 292,000 battle deaths
and 114,000 other deaths.
World War II ended and the Cold War began.
The alliance formed between the United States and the Soviet Union had ended by 1945. Among the
general populace of the United States, a deep fear of communism existed. This fear led to the political
rise of Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the communist witch-hunt.
Joseph R. McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin.
Prior to his election to the senate, McCarthy had been at the age of 30, the youngest circuit judge in the
history of Wisconsin.
What is even more remarkable about this was at the age of 20, he had been a bankrupt farmer with an
eighth grade education. He enrolled in high school at the ages of 20 and completed his course work by
taking exams. He worked and borrowed money to pay for his education at Marquette University.
In 1946, McCarthy won election to the Senate. In January 1950, he was searching for a political issue
with which to link his name. In February, McCarthy began a speaking tour and on February 9th, he gave
one of two speeches he had prepared and taken with him to Wheeling, West Virginia. It was a speech
about the presence of Communists in the U.S. government. This speech forever linked his name to
communism in the United States.
There are several accounts of this event it is reputed that the following words are from this speech:
“While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as
active members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring… I have here in my hand a list of
205, a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State…”
When he arrived at Stapleton Airport in Denver, McCarthy was questioned by reporters about his list. He
told them it was in his suit bag which was still on the plane. But, according to McCarthy, there were ‘207
bad risks’ in the State Department. That evening, he spoke on a radio program in Salt Lake City and he
stated there were 67 card-carrying communists at the State Department.
This is how the numbers were derived: in 1946 and 1948, reports had stated there were 285 cases
believed to be ‘bad risks’ and 108 of these were believed to be Communists.
McCarthy and his speechwriters had subtracted the number of employees who had left the department
and labeled those who remained as ‘Reds’ working in the State Department.
McCarthy never produced a list of names. With each speech, the number changed. Senators Margaret
Chase Smith (Maine) and Ralph Flanders (Vermont) objected to his unsupported charges. They were the
only two Republicans to stand up to McCarthy and they denounced him on the floor of the Senate.
McCarthy proved to be useful to the Republican Party. They chose to let him continue attacking the
Democrats and all others he set his sights on.
The Tydings Commission held hearings lasting four months and they heard testimony concerning
McCarthy’s allegations. He supposedly had another list containing 81 names. A 347 page report was
issued stating all of the people targeted by McCarthy had been investigated and cleared 0 some several
times. The report stated the senator had made accusations “with no facts or with discredited allegations
of fact to support them” and his charges were found to be a “fraud and a hoax”. (Fraud: a deliberate
deception for unfair or unlawful gain) (hoax: an act intended to deceive or trick). It also chastised
McCarthy for making allegations against people based solely on guilt by association and/or guilt by
Anyone who challenged McCarthy risked being branded a communist. Senator Millard Tydings of
Maryland chaired the above mentioned hearings. During the 1950 elections, McCarthy smeared Tydings
with the label of communist and caused his defeat. Afterwards, no one would challenge him.
McCarthy used what is called ‘multiple untruths’. His allegations were so very complex that disproving
them was impossible. Richard Nixon and others tutored him in the use of aggressive tactics. The
committee became famous for this.
In September 1950, the McCarran Internal Security Act was passed. The act forced all communists
groups and their members to register with the attorney general. Communists could not work in the
defense related industries, could not become naturalized citizens, and U.S. citizens could not user their
President Harry Truman vetoed the bill, stating “We need not fear the expression of ideas – we do need
to fear their suppression… Let us not, in cowering fear, throw away the ideas which are the fundamental
basis of our free society.” Congress overrode the veto.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected in 1952. After entering office, he discovered the actions of the
Republican right-wing were interfering with his ability to govern. McCarthy was a major irritant. For
example, McCarthy opposed the selection of Charles E. Bohlen, a career diplomat, to be the U.S.
Ambassador to the Soviet Union because he had been FDR’s interpreter at Yalta.
The Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe and had also developed its own atomic bomb. This
frightened Americans. China was under Communist control in 1949 and at home, many people believed
Communists were infiltrating the academic, cultural, and political spheres of America.
People believed Communists in the State Department had helped Mao Tse-tung to gain control in China.
People testified before McCarthy’s committee (House Committee on Un-American Activities) and
named names in an effort to keep themselves out of trouble. People were willing to tell McCarthy what
he wanted to hear if it would save them.
Actors, actresses, writers, journalists, producers, directors and many others were black listed and found
it impossible to find employment. Many in Hollywood who found themselves on this list did not return
to their disrupted careers until the late 1960s/1970s.
In 1954, a dentist at Fort Monmouth New Jersey had been promoted. Before his promotion, he had
been accused of being a communist. A dispute resulted. The army was reluctant to cooperate with
McCarthy. He accused Army Secretary Robert Stevens of protecting communists serving in the military.
The Army-McCarthy hearings doomed McCarthy. Aon April 22, 1954, public hearings began. The Army
counterattacked McCarthy’s innuendo and half-truths, with a charge of its own. McCarthy had recently
sought favors for a recently drafted aide.
McCarthy countercharged the army had blackmailed him and stopped the exposure of Communists in
the military and they were holding the young man in question ‘hostage’. These hearings were broadcast
over a new medium – television. The hearings portrayed McCarthy as a ‘reckless bully’.
On June 9th, McCarthy made the mistake of attacking an aide to Joseph N. Welch, an Army lawyer. After
McCarthy finished his attack, Welch responded: “Until this moment Senator, I think I never fully gauged
your cruelty or your recklessness… Have you no decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of
On December 1, 1954, the Senate took a vote to censure McCarthy. He was censured for contempt and
abuse of the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections and the Senate’s Select Committee and
“behavior unbecoming a member.”
After his censure, McCarthy began drinking heavily. He developed cirrhosis of the liver and entered
Bethesda Hospital for the last time on April 28, 1957 and died on May 2, 1957 of complications.
Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights movement began in the 1950s, although the call for change began in the 1940s.
World War II veterans returned after spending several years in military service to the United States.
They were part of the liberating forces in Europe where they were viewed as heroes.
But, when they and other ethnic members of the armed forces returned to the states, they were
expected to return to their former roles.
Don’t forget about a million African Americans served in the military during World War II in segregated
During Eisenhower’s first three years in office, public services were desegregated as were the naval
shipyards and veteran’s hospitals.
Eisenhower was committed to civil rights at the federal level
He believed changes should be made at the state/local levels
He doubted laws could change the prejudices of people
His words: “I don’t believe you can change the hearts of men with laws or decisions.”
1930s: The NAACP decided to test the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. Charles W. Houston, dean of
Howard University Law School, developed the plans. Thurgood Marshall, future Supreme Court justice
and former student, was the principal NAACP lawyer. They began their drive to integrate society with
postgraduate study. In 1950, the case of Sweatt v. Painter was decided. The Supreme Court ruled that a
separate black law school in Texas failed to provide ‘equal’ education. One problem cited by the Court,
was the isolation of the school. It stopped students from interacting with other future lawyers.
The legal case of Brown v. Board of Education was comprised of cases from the following states: Kansas,
Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The case is cited as Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka, Kansas. On May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously decided “in the field of public
education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”
A year later, the Court ordered “a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance.” The Court
directed the process of racial integration should move “with all deliberate speed.”
Eisenhower did not participate in the leading of southerners toward the goal of fulfilling the Court’s
decisions. According to the president, “the Supreme Court decision set back progress in the South at
least fifteen years. The fellow who tries to tell me you can do these things by force is just plain nuts.”
Token integration began in 1954 in the Border States. But in the Deep South and Virginia, hostility
increased. Citizens Councils formed. These groups were middle and upper class versions of the Ku Klux
Klan and they spread throughout the region.
Eventually, the membership totaled 250,000. They did not use physical violence and intimidation, but
economic coercion. Blacks who refused to accept the ‘white supremacy’ doctrine lost their jobs,
insurance policies were canceled, and they were denied personal loans and home mortgages. In 1956 in
six southern states, a black child did not attend school with white children.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The boycott began on December 1, 1955 with the arrest of Rosa Parks, a tired black seamstress. She was
arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white man. The next night, a meeting was held to organize a
bus boycott. The people named their organization the Montgomery Improvement Association.
The boycott continued until 1956. The Supreme Court supported a decision handed down by a lower
court, “the separate but equal doctrine can no longer be safely followed as a correct statement of the
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which is still in existence, was organized in 1957.
Civil Rights Acts of 1950s and 1960
While Eisenhower did not involve himself in the desegregation of schools, he supported the rights of
blacks to vote. In a move to exploit divisions between northern and southern Democrats, and he wanted
to reclaim the Republican black vote. Eisenhower proposed what became the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It
was the first civil rights act passed since reconstruction. Its move through the Senate was delayed for a
year. Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson ‘watered down the bill’ making it acceptable to
The act established a Civil Rights Commission to exist for two years and a Civil Rights Division to the
Justice Department. This division was to seek injunctions to prevent interference with the right to vote.
Later, the Commission was extended indefinitely. However by 1959 a southern black had not been
added to the voter roles.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 also failed to add African American names to the voting roles. This act
provided for federal court referees to register blacks to vote in instances where the court found a
‘pattern and practice of discrimination.’ The bill made it a federal offense to interfere with any court
These two bills could not achieve their goals without enforcement by the president.
A couple of weeks after the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, Orval Faubus, governor of Arkansas,
ordered the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School in Little
Rock. Their admittance had been court ordered. A discussion between Eisenhower and the governor did
not bring about a change. Under court order, Faubus withdrew the Guardsmen. When the students tried
to enter the school again, a mob of whites attacked them.
Two months earlier, Eisenhower had stated he could not “imagine any set of circumstances that would
ever induce me to send federal troops.” This situation caused him to change his mind. He sent a
thousand paratroopers to Little Rock to protect the students and placed the National Guard on federal
service. The soldiers remained in Little Rock for the year.
The next school year, Faubus closed the high schools. Legal proceedings continued until 1959. In 1959,
resistance to integration in Virginia ended when state and federal courts struck down state laws denying
funds to integrated schools. After this, resistance was limited to the Deep South; the states from South
Carolina west to Louisiana resisted even token integration.
On June 21, 1963, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. announced a coalition of national civil
rights groups would be staging a march on Washington.
Randolph was considered the elder statesman of the movement. In 1925 he had founded the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and had organized the predominantly black workers who tended
the Pullman cars. Unions did not allow African American membership. Randolph viewed unions as a
means of furthering the civil rights cause.
W.E.B. Dubois believed urban college educated blacks should lead the civil rights crusade. Randolph did
not. He believed the movement should be led by the workers and those at the grassroots level. On June
22, President John F. Kennedy met with Randolph, King, and other leaders in an attempt to talk them
out of their decision. When this failed, he appointed his brother Robert to work with Randolph and his
deputy, Bayard Rustin. Robert Kennedy provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in Justice
Department funds to ensure the demonstration remained peaceful, orderly, and pro-Kennedy.
The organizers had hope for a turnout of 100,000 but instead they got 250,000. A quarter of the 250,000
participants were white.
In July, 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Yet, southern Democrats in
Congress blocked all civil rights legislation, and state laws in the South mandated racial segregation.
After the fight to integrate schools in Little Rock, the battleground moved to Greensboro, North
Carolina. There, lunch counter sit-ins at the local five-and-dime, Woolworth’s, were launched. The sit-ins
spread to the lunch counters of other chain stores and one by one they agreed to integrate.
When Ella Baker, the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, learned
what was taking place, she convinced the leadership to sponsor a conference for the young people.
Baker convinced the young people to form their own organization. This conference gave birth to the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced ‘snik’).
After the desegregation of restaurants, the battleground moved to interstate transportation. In 1951, an
interracial group of Freedom Riders was recruited to ride interstate buses through the South.
After a phone conversation between Robert Kennedy and Marking Luther King, James Farmer, the
national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was asked to postpone the Freedom Rides
and to allow a ‘cooling off’ period to take place. This was his response: “I asked Dr. King to tell Bobby
Kennedy that we’d been cooling off for 350 years, and that if we cooled off any more we’d be in a deep
While the Freedom Riders were committed to nonviolence, southerners were not. A firebomb was
thrown into one bus and the riders on another bus were beaten. According to Birmingham
commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, his men were not on duty at the bus station
because if was Mother’s Day. Declassified FBI documents later showed that an informant warned the
bureau in advance that the Birmingham police knew of the planned violence and intentionally stayed
The assassination of John Kennedy caused young white activists to question the ability to change society
from within the political system. It also caused them to wonder whether their work with the civil rights
movement hadn’t been a vicarious protest. Many young black activists also wondered the same thing.
Soon a faction within SNCC challenged the group’s interracial leadership. In 1966, the black members of
SNCC voted to expel all whites from the organization. This act was largely symbolic because nearly all of
the whites had already left.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson sent to Congress a civil rights bill. This bill was much stronger than the one
proposed by Kennedy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination in all public places,
ending Jim Crow; it banned discrimination in employment, union membership, and programs financed
by the federal government. In March 1954, he also called for a ‘war on poverty’.
The program called for the expenditure of $962 million and was expanded to $3 billion in 1966. The
Great Society program called for New Deal style relief to areas in rural and urban America where
poverty was firmly entrenched. It funded Head Start (preschool education for disadvantaged children),
the Job Corps (vocational training for older youths), VISTA (domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps), to
name just a few.
Voter Registration was a hot issue for both sides. Both SNCC and SCLS became involved in the push to
register African Americans to vote. On Sunday March 21, 1965, the fifty-four mile march from Selma to
Montgomery began. Four days later, the marchers arrived in Montgomery. By the time they arrived in
Montgomery, the number had increased from 8,000 to 25,000.
This march helped win passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This act eliminated literacy test, created a
corps of federal examiners to make certain the process of voter registration would be fair and open, and
it eliminated all other obstacles to the voter registration of African Americans.
The Selma march marked the end of the coalition that brought blacks and whites together. There would
not be other interracial demonstrations. King focused on ending the escalating war in Vietnam and
ending poverty. The more radical African Americans embraced Black Power and young whites their own
To this date, the Vietnam War was America’s longest war.
Between 1945 and 1954, the Vietnamese waged war against the French. For this war, the French
received $2.6 million in financial support from the United States. The French were defeated at Dien Bien
Phu. A peace conference was held in Geneva and Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were given their
independence. Vietnam was divided between an anti-communist South and pro-communist North. In
1956, South Vietnam refused to hold unification elections. These elections would have unified the
country. The U.S. supported South Vietnam’s refusal. By 1958, Communist-led guerillas, known as the
Viet Cong, had begun to battle the South Vietnamese government.
The United States supported South Vietnam’s government and, as a sigh of this support we sent in 2000
military advisors. In 1963, this number grew to 16,300. By 1963, South Vietnam had lost the Mekong
Delta to the Viet Cong. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson escalated the war. We began launching air strikes on
North Vietnam. More ground forces were committed and in 1968 these numbered 536,000.
In 1968, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. This action led many Americans to turn
against the war. When Richard Nixon became president, he supported the withdrawing of troops and
giving South Vietnam more responsibility for the fighting of the war. IN 1970 he tried to slow down the
flow of North Vietnamese soldiers and supplies in South Vietnam by sending American forces to destroy
communist supply bases in Cambodia. This was in direct violation of Cambodian neutrality and this
action provoked anti-war protests on college campuses.
From 1968 to 1973 efforts were made to end the Vietnam War through diplomatic avenues. An
agreement was finally reached in January 1973. We began withdrawing our forces and the North
Vietnamese began releasing American prisoners of war. In April 1975 North Vietnamese tanks rolled into
Saigon. South Vietnam surrendered and the country was reunited.
The Battle of Hamburger Hill was one of the most controversial battles of the war. Officially it is
referred to as Hill 937. The battle for the hill began on May 10, 1969 and ended on May 20, 1969. The
soldiers who fought there dubbed it “Hamburger Hill”. The battle lasted for ten days. The final attack
was launched on May 20th. Later that same day the hill was secured by American forces. In June,
Hamburger Hill was abandoned. The North Vietnamese regained control. There were 372 men wounded
and 70 killed.
As already stated, the Vietnam War was the longest war in American history and the most unpopular
American war in the twentieth century. It resulted in almost 60,000 deaths. It is estimated 2 million
Vietnamese lost their lives. Thirty years later, people still ask whether our effort in Vietnam was a sin, a
blunder, a necessary war, noble cause, or an idealistic effort to protect the South Vietnamese from
Consequences of the Vietnam War
The war had far reaching consequences for the United States. Congress replaced the military draft with
an all volunteer force and the country reduced the voting age to 18. It led Congress to attack the
‘Imperial’ presidency through the War Powers Act. This act restricted the president’s freedom to send
military forces into combat without Congressional approval. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of
Vietnamese refugees have helped restore blighted urban neighborhoods.
My Lai Massacre
It was important to military officials that the Viet Cong operative be eliminated. Success was not
measured according to acquisitions of territory or strategic locations, but by body count. Military
missions were judged a success according to the number of Viet Cong killed. Commanding officers
encouraged soldiers to exaggerate the body count because the higher number meant a higher success
It was very difficult to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. This often created a discrepancy
between the number of dead bodies and the number of enemy weapons recovered. According to
University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Doug Linder, GIs joked, “anything that’s dead and isn’t
white is a VC.” This mindset was reflected in the body count. Because of the nature of this war, many
civilians were killed and this added to the anti-American sentiment in the area. Civilians often provided
shelter for the Viet Cong and this frustrated American soldiers.
Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, American Division arrived in Viet Nam in December 1967. During the Tet
Offensive of January 1968, U.S. military intelligence believed the NLF (National Front for the Liberation
of South Vietnam, the official name for the Viet Cong) were hiding in some of the villages. This led to
plans for an attack by U.S. forces against the villages.
The night before the attack on My Lai, Charlie Company was told true civilians at My Lai would have left
for the market by 7:00am. It would be safe to believe anyone found there was either a sympathizer or
VC (Viet Cong). They were told to destroy the village. During the briefing, Captain Ernest Medina was
asked whether the order included the killing of women and children. Later, different accounts were
provided concerning Medina’s answer.
On March 16, 1968, the soldiers did not find any insurgents in the village. One platoon of soldiers, let by
Lt. William Calley, were reported to have killed hundreds of civilians principally old men, women,
children, and babies. Some were tortured or raped. Dozens were placed into a ditch and executed with
There is not a precise number available, but the most commonly cited numbers are 347 to 504. A U.S.
Army helicopter crew saved some civilians when it landed between American troops and Vietnamese
hiding in a bunker. The pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr. Told the leaders his gunship would
open fire if they continued to attack the civilians.
An enlisted man, Michael Bernhard, did not participate in the massacre. He later exposed the atrocities.
In 1970, he was awarded the Ethical Humanist Award.
In the Spring of 1972, the camp housing the survivors of the massacre was destroyed by the South
Vietnamese. The blame was placed on the North Vietnamese. The truth was made known by Quaker
service workers. Martin Teitel testified before the Subcommittee to investigate Problems Connected
with Refugees and Escapees in May 1972. In June of 1972, his account was printed in the New York
A cover-up was launched. Brigadier General Young Henderson interviewed several of those involved,
and in a written report in late April 1969, claimed approximately 22 civilians had been killed during the
My Lai operation. The army was maintaining it was a military victory that resulted in the death of 128 of
The carnage of My Lai might have been swept under rug if not for Rod Ridenhour, a soldier, who sent a
letter to President Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many
members of Congress. Except for Representative Morris Udall, all ignored the letter. Ridenhour learned
about My Lai second hand from members of Charlie Company while still enlisted. Eventually, William
Calley was charged with several counts of premeditated murder in September 1969; 25 other officers
and enlisted men were also charged with various crimes. The American public did not learn of My Lai
until two months later.
Journalist Seymour Hersh spoke with Ridenhour and he broke the story on November 12, 1969.
Secretary Melvin Laird was heard to say, “There are so many kids just lying there; these pictures are
William Calley was convicted in 1971 of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, but
two days later President Richard Nixon ordered him released from prison. He served 3 ½ years under
house arrest at Fort Benning Georgia. He was then freed by Federal Judge J. Robert Elliot. Calley claimed
to have followed orders from his commanding officer, Ernest Medina. Medina denied issuing the orders.
He was acquitted. Calley was the only person convicted.
After leaving the army, Medina acknowledged he had known what was happening at My Lai. He
admitted he had “not been complete candid to avoid disgracing the military, the United States, his
family, and himself.”
Medina was sixteen years old when he lied about his age to enter the National Guard.
After graduating from high school, he worked odd jobs and in 1956 he enlisted in the Army.
Seven years later, he attended Officer Candidate School (OCS). He graduated with honors and as
battalion commander of his cadet class.
Medina taught at OCS for two years. Next, he was stationed in Hawaii.
In 1966, he was made commanding officer of Charlie Company.
When he was first questioned about My Lai, Medina was in a nine month career officers’ training
In was his leadership of Charlie Company which led to the course and it would have led to the
promotion of Major.
He was acquitted at his court martial, but his career advancement ended.
He left the Army and took a job in a helicopter manufacturing company owned by his lawyer, F. Lee
After Medina left the Army, he admitted he had known what was happening at My Lai. He stated he had
“not been complete candid to avoid disgracing the military, the United States, his family, and