Battling the Military Jim Crow: Thurgood Marshall and the Racial Politics of the NAACP during the Korean War
This paper employs the NAACP records, military records, oral histories, and newspapers to reconstruct the efforts of civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall and his NAACP colleagues to launch a full-scale investigation of Jim Crow policies in the armed forces during the Korean War. At heart, it is a diplomatic history paper, though one in which the legal and social histories are inextricably bound. It is a story about how Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP civil rights lawyers challenged white supremacy in the U.S. Army and the State Department. Not seeking a mono-causal explanation for implementation of desegregation, this paper asserts that, before Brown, the NAACP had already successfully utilized the Cold War rhetoric to push the color line in the U.S. military and had set the stage for broader social changes in the civilian society after Brown. In conclusion, integration as a “by-product” of the exigency of the Korean War paved the way for later social reforms in late 1950s. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP successfully utilized the international condemnation of America’s racial situation to advance the civil rights movement in America.