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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"Dear Mr. President" - Attitudes of Nashville Area African Americans During WW2

Lewis Wade Johnson
Charles S. Johnson














On December 8, 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Alan Lomax, then assistant in charge of the Archive of American Folk Song, sent a telegram to fieldworkers in ten different cities across the United States - including Charles S. Johnson and Lewis Wade Jones at Fisk University in Nashville - asking them to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions of ordinary Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States. A second series of interviews, called "Dear Mr. President," was recorded in January and February 1942. You can read about the entire, nation-wide collection here.


Nashville_Banner_Mon__Dec_8__1941_
The interviews feature a wide diversity of opinions concerning the war and other social and political issues of the day, such as racial prejudice and labor disputes. They also captured the voices of a range of Nashville's African American citizens - from civil rights icon Z. Alexander Looby to a 17-year-old girl to an elevator operator to labor organizers. Below is a list of the interviewees. They are followed by audio recordings of the interviews with transcriptions of the interviews.

While I do not think any of these people were from Williamson County, I wanted to include their interviews on my blog because their opinions and the events they referenced would have been relevant to people living here at the time.


Man (and Women) on the Street Interviews 
Were Conducted With:


  • Reverend W. J. Faulkner, minister and president of the local NAACP
  • Ms. Fadie France, YWCA secretary
  • Mrs. Mark Hannah Watkins, "widely travelled housewife"
  • Walter Hadley, attendant at Meharry Medical College
  • Roger Camfield, graduate student in the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University 
  • W. C. Curry, FSA Fellow from Newport News, Virginia

Dear Mr. President Interviews Were Conducted With:
  • Mrs. Morgan C. Moore, stenographer, bookkeeper of Nashville, Tennessee
  • Anna Gamble
  • Gloria Harper, student in adult education program
  • Ethel McDonald
  • Mrs. Ann Johnson, a district chairman in the Civilian Defense Program 
  • Mabel McKee, section leaders of the Negro block organization (participated 2x)
  • Eugenia Burnett
  • Grace Harrison, social worker at Meharry Medical College
  • Alexander Loobey, lawyer in Nashville
  • Pam Tucker, 17-year-old student at Pearl High School
  • unidentified doctor
  • Dr. W. S. Ellington, Jr., dentist, Nashville
  • Mrs. Julia T. Galvin a stenographer of Nashville
  • Miss Carrie Timberlake, Nashville elevator operator
  • W. J. Faulkner, college pastor at Fisk University
  • Chesterfield White, enlisted in the Army
  • Miss C. L. Hightower, adult teacher of Bethlehem Center
  • Albert Smith, plasterer and draftee
  • William Hill, Boys Club worker
  • Leddie Galloway, girls worker and community organizer at Fisk Social Center
  • A. J. Steel, salesman from Nashville
  • Grafton Looby, wife of Z Alexander Looby
  • Mrs. C. S. Johnson, General Chairman of the Nashville Block Organization for Colored Citizens and wife of Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University
  • Arvin Bradford, a graduate student, Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University
  • Lewis Jones, social research worker 
  • Will Gilchrist
  • Henry Shook, grocery clerk
  • G. W. Russell, building custodian
  • Harold Thomas, business agent for Local 1937 Carpenters Union
  • Leslie W. Beesley, public school teacher



 "Man on the Street" Interviews

Interview AFS 6361 Side A: Introduction (perhaps Charles S. Johnson): There is some confusion and some hysteria following the first impact of the war news here. Full realization of what war means has yet to come. Negro opinion has been varied and a great amount of concern has been expressed over the Negroe's place in the defense. But now that the country needs all of its citizens and Negroes are anxious to take their place in a democratic effort to defend democracy. We have here some Nashville citizens to express their reactions to the first war news. The first person you will hear is the Reverend W. J. Faulkner, Congregational minister and president of the Nashville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

Reverend W. J. Faulkner: This sudden and unfortunate attack of the Japanese on our country has revealed in stark outline a tragic attitude of unpreparedness and selfish indifference on our part to the real dangers confronting our nation and our democratic way of life. Too long have we been divided at home. For we have been dissipating our vast strength and straining our national unity through labor conflicts and class bickerings. And in practices of stupid and costly racial discriminations, our enemies have conspired to destroy us. I earnestly hope that at last we have become struck wide awake to the real threats to our national safety at home and abroad. And that we will be galvanized into effective action by uniting all of our people and resources on a basis of equality into one invincible army of patriots who will work for the triumph of Christian democracy and brotherhood throughout the world. 
Rev. Faulkner's son William Faulkner Jr. was the first Nashville Tuskegee Airman.
He was shot down over Austria during WW2 and killed.
Nashville_Banner_Thu__May_3__1945

Cut A2 Interviewer: The next person you will hear speak is Miss Fadie France, native of Denver, Colorado, YWCA secretary in Nashville. 

Fadie France: Japan's aggression was an expected act. We must take into consideration, the Japanese ruthless aggression towards China throughout the past four years. One can see the fact that Japan is an aggressive nation. However, this particular act was not entirely of Japanese making. This war situation [disc skips] had to reach a head soon the United States [disc skips] was bound to enter this war. Just what the fuse was [disc skips] supposed to be was the only uncertain factor. Rather than Japan's aggression, I would say, Japan's obedience to instigated commands by the Axis powers. As some of the others who are not active participants or witnesses of the last world war, the actual horror or seriousness of combat has not dawned on me of yet. Just a mild excitement that naturally comes with mass action, the usual response of an individual to group psychology. Because of this follows my reaction to Japan. Being just another of the uninformed masses I have a feeling of resentment toward Japan for her treacherous, sly attack on the United States, words and thoughts put into my mouth by radio news commentators and writers of newspaper articles. Yet an actual hatred for Japan herself does not exist within me. She is the tool of stronger powers. My resentment is definitely directed toward them. I impatiently await the finish of Japan so that the Axis powers, the motivating factors for this recent aggression, can be stopped in their murderous attempts to thwart the cause of democracy and liberty. Their greedy attempts to rule the world only ??? of our country. My faith and belief in superiority of the United States is childlike in its entirety. Even though the treatment of minority groups has been and is still unfair, my loyalty to my country is unlimited and unbounded.

Interview AFS 6361 Side B:

The next person to express her opinion on the Japanese aggression is Mrs. Mark Hannah Watkins, widely traveled housewife. 

Dr. Alma Watkins
Professor, Tennessee A&I
Mrs. Mark Hannah Watkins [Dr. Alma Watkins, Head of the Foreign Language Dept at Tennessee A & I]: I saw and felt fear with the Parisians when the Nazi aggression began, but the resentment that we feel from the Japanese aggression makes us determined to fight until victory belongs to the democracies. As patriotic Americans, we too join in the cry “they shall not pass.” 

Cut B2 Interviewer: Mr. Walter Hadley, young Nashville native and attendant at the Vanderbilt Hospital will express his point of view. 

Mr. Walter Hadley: It is my opinion that the United States should have been aware of these sudden Axis power attacks due to the current development at that time. I think that the United States Army officers responsible should be ordered up for an investigation since the damage was so great as a result of the Japanese attack. I also feel as a Negro that our boys should have a better place in the army and navy since we all have to fight together we should fight more for a solidarity in this country. Declare war on that nation in Dixieland to help us all have one common cause to fight for: liberty, equality, and justice for all. 

Cut B3 Interviewer: The next expression is that of Roger Camfield, graduate student in the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University. 

Roger Campfield: Imagine seventy million people on an island the size of New Jersey which is poor in natural resources to boot. Imagine those people having to expand to live but finding themselves unable to expand because all available territories controlled by nations who intend to maintain their power and control. War was inevitable under the circumstances and how it came was dramatic, but the fact that it came was expected. No blame in this matter can be, with good conscience, squarely placed. The present Japanese-American war is the one aspect of the culmination of capitalistic expansion and centralization of control. Which expansion has been characterized by internal strife and war for whatever widening spheres until now in this war it is completely covered the world. Of course, as all people of the world are doing, I as other Negroes, will fight without knowing the aims they are fighting for or the results that will be obtained.

Cut B4 Interviewer: The next person to speak is W. C. Curry, FSA Fellow from Newport News, Virginia. 

W. [Walter] C. Curry: The Japanese attack on the United States and the imminent threat of Italian and German aggression is a direct result of the appeasement policies towards these countries since 1934. The naval defeat Sunday and the unpreparedness of the United States is mainly due to the pro-fascist forces within this country. This is the gravest period in our country's history. One of the gravest dangers at this time is not from abroad, but lies in those fascist-minded forces within. Courage, vigilance, and dogged determination to win should be our slogan. The Negro as in every other crisis in our country's history will laudably distinguish himself in the defense of these United States, his country. And will also equally share in the better world which the ultimate victory will bring.




"Dear Mr. President" Interviews


Recording AFS 6437 Side A 



Mrs. Morgan C. Moore: This is Mrs. Morgan C. Moore, stenographer, bookkeeper of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, I have been interested in the defense program from many angles, but particularly from the employment angle. For example, my husband is a trained mechanic and is not employed in his field. I would like to know why the Vultee plant does not employ trained colored men. Prices for food, clothing, and shelter are rising. But pre-war day salaries are constant with my group. The defense work offers salaries that can compete with the rise in prices. This is just one of the many problems which needs consideration and adjustment. 

Unidentified Woman: I am ??? of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, because the United States is involved in World War number Two with dangerous nations, because I am an American citizen, because I love America, and because I want to help [maintain (?)] variety, life, liberty, and the presence of happiness, I am offering my service to help to win the victory. I am a maid and do have a low income salary. But each day I am and will buy a national defense stamp and finally will be able to buy a defense bond. I can and will join a Red Cross first aid [troop (?)] so that I may be able to take part in the home defense of Nashville, Tennessee. I am also joining a knitting class to aid the boys in camps. These and any other service that I can do, I am giving to you and to my country for I do remember Pearl Harbor. 

Anna Gamble: Mr. President, I am Anna Gamble of Nashville, Tennessee. I came to Fisk Social Center, WPA School. My race knows that America is now engaged in a war for democracy and everyone of us is willing to do our duty and all we ask is an opportunity to prove our loyalty. This means that we will fight our worth in the defense. 

Gloria Harper: Mr. President, my name is Gloria Harper. I am a colored girl who attends one of the adult schools in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. I appreciate this splendid opportunity to express my thoughts in these trying times. As a member of the Negro race, I am interested in doing my bit. As a race we have always been loyal, which is needless to say. Many of us feel that we should have more representation in the defense program. We have able-bodied men capable of shouldering a rifle for our country and will do our bit in this respect. And we have men and women, mentally and manually trained, who are capable of doing their bit in the defense industry. Finally, I say these things [as I challenge to all].


Ethel McDonald: Mr. President, I am Ethel McDonald. I'm a girl of [Fayetteville?], Tennessee. I am interested in the progress of our country in the world's crisis. I'm willing to do my part to aid my country in the defense program. I think the Negro race should be considered in a plan for work in any possible way. He is always responded to the call which shows the loyalty and bravery of any people. As a race of people we love our country very dear in our heart. To not take a part in these trying hours, when unity is so badly needed, it gives a feeling of neglect. Finally, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Recording AFS 6437 Side B 

Medical Student: Mr. President, I am a student at Meharry Medical College. I'm also a teacher in one of the adult schools which this program is being run this evening. Many of our students ask the teachers and ask me concerning the defense program and also information concerning the war. Some of this information I have available at my fingertips that I can give them. But in so far as the defense program is concerned, and why the Negro cannot get jobs when he is equally trained with the white man, I am unable to answer that question. If any information is available at Washington, D.C. I wish you could send some to the Fisk Social Center at Nashville, Tennessee.


Recording AFS 6438 Side A 
Mrs. Ann Johnson: Dear Mr. President, I'm Mrs. Ann Johnson, a district chairman in the Civilian Defense Program of Nashville, and what I'm about to say may seem very personal. But unless there be concerted action on the part of each individual there can be no grand and glorious finale. During the First World War, like all other patriotic mothers, having sons eligible for military duty, I threw myself unreservedly into every phase of wartime activity. Most eager to have a share in destroying every agency then at work to prevent the world from becoming a real democracy. As we failed in reaching our goal, today finds us involved in the most stupendous conflict the world has ever witnessed, as we all realize. It is of great pride that I say, my only grandson has not only volunteered his services, but today though miles and miles away from me, is doing active duty for his Uncle Sam. My only son, a physician and surgeon with years of experience, upon a bed of affliction is striving with all of his might and main to hasten his recovery that he too may offer his services to his country. What more can I say, but that I am here again. A grandmother then, a great grandmother now. After a quarter of a century of [services (?)] from active military combat, but striving against every other kind of handicap peculiar to my group lined up with the Civilian Defense Program in a very intimate way to do my bit. Having a hunch from a spiritual angle that when this ruinous war, these strikes and this bloodshed and discord cease and the most great peace shall come, that our children and our children's children will most assuredly find a new world that will evolve out of this present chaos. A saner and safer place in which to live. 

Mabel McKee: My dear Mr. President, I am Mabel McKee one of the section leaders of the Negro block organization. We just completed our national registration and as a whole our group responded beautifully. For the six days of registration, our total being two hundred thirty-one. Of this number, to my opinion, the most patriotic citizen to register was Walter Wright, age forty-seven years, of 1044 Jefferson Street. This man was formerly a city employee, an unskilled laborer. He suffered a paralytic stroke three years ago rendering him unable to do manual labor. Each morning Mr. Wright would be the first person to meet the registers and he would remain at the station all during the day, generally standing at the door explaining to his fellow citizens the importance of registering and being a patriotic American citizen. He said that he was happy to be a doorkeeper. This, we considered, a wonderful tribute. Our group of Negro women, as block leaders, pledge to our great United States our hearty support through this time of national crisis.



Recording AFS 6438, Side B - link here 




Eugenia Burnett: Dear Mr. President, as of one the thirteen million loyal Negro Americans praying for the victory of a great nation, I send greetings to our honored leader. I am a section leader trying to organize the block in my community and my greatest problem is to arouse interest among my people in this great struggle for democracy. We humbly petition you as president of us all, black as well as white, to remember us in your program for all we ask is an equal opportunity to work and serve this, the only country we have. This is Eugenia Burnett. 

Grace Harrison: Dear Mr. President, I'm Grace Harrison social worker at Meharry Medical College. And I am very much interested in having our population, our civilian population, pulled out of its lethargy. As one commentator stated, this war can be lost not because of lack of guns and implements of war, but because of the complacency and carelessness of the average individual. There was also a story recently of some newspaper men donning the garb of Nazi officers and assuming a German accent walking through the streets of one our largest cities visiting the industries of defense without being challenged by anyone. One of our colored newspapers had a comment about that too, it sounded rather cynical I thought, they said, “Their faces were white.” If this war can be lost because of the attitudes of civilians it is time we concentrate upon that type of defense. Every civilian, however insignificant he may be considered, should be made to feel that his country is in danger and that it's high time they forgot petty prejudices and pull together in this struggle. Surely, this is a cause we all have in common.






AFS 6439, Side A





Z. Alexander Looby: Mr. President, this is Alexander Loobey, a lawyer from Nashville, Tennessee. It is generally recognized that the Negroes of the South are not contributing as much as they can contribute to his national defense. Nor are they receiving the benefits which the federal government desires them to receive. This is due to the fact that the federal government is working through constituted local authorities. It is true that local served government is a theory of democratic government, but Mr. President, this is a condition and not a theory which confronts us Negroes in the South. When the head of our government publically announces that this is a white man's country, when the head of our local Department of Education fights vigorously to maintain a duo educational system paying different salary schedules, how can we expect that the local authorities will function fairly and efficiently for the Negro? Mr. President, if the Negro is to make his contribution to the federal government, if the Negro is to receive the benefits which is his due this must be operated through the federal channels with a responsibility directly in Washington and not through a local-served government. 

Pam Tucker: I am Pam Tucker, seventeen year-old girl reserve of the YWCA and a student of Pearl Senior High School. You've had this say about everything Mr. President. You want peace, peace of mind, spirit, and body. You're torn up inside because you don't understand what is happening or why. You don't give us no consolation with that hysterical action. Give us emotional security. We as the Negro youth of Nashville think you may help these emergency times by providing better recreational facilities and educational opportunities. By wholesome recreation and better education we may develop our minds as well as our bodies so as to better serve our country, home, and community. 

Myrtle Copeland: Mr. President Roosevelt, my name is Miss Myrtle Copeland. I am a colored lady and a resident of Nashville, Tennessee. I am very much interested in this defense program. I am studying first-aid and many of we colored people are in order to render service in any emergency. I will do my part in any defense program to defend our country and I hope we as a colored race will be given more consideration for better jobs. 

Unidentified Man: Mr. President, I was born in Nashville, Tennessee some years ago. I'm in every capacity in the social life of Nashville. I've had the privilege of heading it up at some time or other. I graduated one of the greatest medical schools in the world, Meharry Medical College in nineteen hundred and thirteen. At the time of my graduation I had the good pleasure, or you might say, the illpleasure whatever you might say it was, to be a member of a state militia. I was First Sergeant at that time. When the first world war broke out I couldn't get out of this company and I was transferred immediately to the Des Moines training camp where I took the officers training camp for a period of time and was promoted to the rank of Captain there. I went with my boys overseas and we fought and did our part in the first great world war. We came back and this company was disbanded. We tried repeatedly to get the different governors of the state and the adjunct generals to reinstate this company, and to the present time we have not been successful. And when this great struggle this second time broke out, we again applied to the governor and his staff and for several weeks we have been waiting. We in Nashville and in the South are willing to do our part. The only thing that we are asking is that we be given opportunity to fight, to live, and to die for the thing that we call democracy. The thing that will cause this world to give the minority groups an opportunity to achieve all of the blessings of life, health, and happiness.


The_Nashville_Globe_Fri__Sep_21__1917
The unidentified gentleman interviewed above served with the Medical Reserve Corp shown in this photograph.

Recording AFS 6439, Side B


Dr. W. S. Ellington, Jr.: This is Dr. W. S. Ellington, Jr. dentist of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, as I thank you for your Fireside Chats which seem so like confidential talks between friends at the close of a busy day, I'm thinking of fifteen million Negroes who are among the most loyal citizens in the United States. In the face of discrimination and segregation, the Negro has remained one hundred percent loyal. What greater proof than a Joe Louis benefit for the navy, a branch of our armed services which has never permitted his race to rise above the ship's galley. These millions of Negroes are doing all in their power to serve in the present crisis. Most defense industries are closed to him. The possibility of advancement in the army is definitely limited. If democracy is to survive, if democracy is ever to be made to work, our generation must make it work. We want, as you do, to perpetuate the democratic way of life. Do all in your power, as we are doing, to remove the barriers, raise the ceilings, unshackle the loyalties, release the energies and the initiative of this loyal race, that together all Americans, all liberty-loving peoples may give their all that our way of life may survive. 

Mrs. Julia T. Galvin: This is Mrs. Julia T. Galvin a stenographer of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, in this section of the United States it seems to me that there are two outstanding problems confronting us now. They have to do with our Negro soldiers and with taxation. In certain parts of our country, the uniform of our army is not properly respected. Our loyal black boys in uniform should be protected while they are in camp. The ruthless beating up and murder of them should be stopped. This sort of thing breaks down the morale of any army. Every loyal soldier is an important factor in our defense program. It'll take a lot of money to win this war. We're going to win and we're going to sacrifice all we have for our country. But it has become a problem to know how to meet these new taxes and keep up the old ones with our limited incomes which have not increased with the increased demand of heavier taxation. If we borrow we're plunged into debt and citizens in debt cannot prevent a stronger defense as we desire, but we have pledged ourselves to do our best. 

Miss Carrie Timberlake: Mr. President, I am Miss Carrie Timberlake of Nashville, Tennessee. I am employed as an elevator operator. I am interested in the progress of our country. We do not have guns, but we are using our dollars in the aid of defense. We are fighting for a democratic way of life for ourselves and for the people now enslaved by the demagogues of Europe.


Recording AFS 6440, Side A


W. J. Faulkner: Dear Mr. President, my name is W. J. Faulkner, college pastor at Fisk University and one who is interested in boys in the city of Nashville. I think one of the brightest spots in our life here at Nashville at the present time, with reference to the white and colored relationships, is a work that I'm interested in at the Negro youth center where white and colored members of the board direct the center. It's a recreational project that promotes citywide programs in the winter. And in the spring and summer, it has outdoor activities and gives the youngsters a chance to go out in the country where they might get a bit of fresh air. And where they might build up their bodies to become good citizens, good strong men in our community. These things couldn't be if our colored youth didn't share so generously with in the benefits of the Council of Community Agencies and the Community Chest. I think one of the most hopeful signs of good will down here, where we're kept out of industries and other things, is that we do work together as white and colored citizens interested in giving the Negro boy a chance. One of the finest things that's been done by this Negro youth center has been a Halloween program which we hold in one of the city parks in the Fall. Thousands of our boys and girls come there for a good time and the police records show that not a single arrest has been made for the last three Halloweens among colored youth in Nashville. I think this is quite a record and our juvenile delinquency has gone down as a result of the work in this center. I think this is a very fine investment in race relations and in money from the Community Chest. 

Chesterfield White: My dear Mr. President, my name is Chesterfield White. I am just about to enter the armed forces of America. As I go to take my places with the other soldiers of this country I am asking myself a question, “What am I fighting for?” I am fighting to help preserve democracy and to beat the Axis power. The American way of life is so dear to me and to every American freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and a representative form of government. In the countries where they have a dictatorship of government they are opposed to that freedom. And may I say as Irving Berlin has said in his song, “God bless America.” 

Miss C. L. Hightower: Dear Mr. President, I am Miss C. L. Hightower, Negro adult teacher of Bethlehem Center, located in Nashville, Tennessee. We have but one main objective and that is to give you, our armed forces, loyal support and whatever you may ask for. Regardless of the cost or sacrifice, we intend to block every advance made by Hitler. Here on the homefront as a WPA teacher, I can use my position to instruct my pupils in methods of civilian defense and urge them to support our national war effort. We have many illiterate boys of draft age who attend our night school. It is my objective to instruct them so that they may be better when they go to the army. I hope that my contribution, however small, has added much.


Recording AFS 6440, Side B
Albert Smith: Dear Mr. President, my name is Albert Smith. I am a plasterer. I am a draftee. I have taken my examination and am Class 1-A. My friends ask me what I think about this war. I tell them that you just doing another job assigned to my hand to do. And I'm willing to do it the best that I can. And I think that every Negro in America should be glad to do all that he can to help whip Hitler. Because this is one country where a Negro can work and serve God and cultivate his education and do most any kind of work that he desire to do. And I think that we should do all we can to help win this war. 

Mabel MacKee: My dear Mr. President, I am Mabel MacKee, section leader of the Negro block division of Nashville. Our folk are perfectly willing to do their bit. A number of them are unskilled labor. They are willing to do what they can. The registration, we're a hundred percent. So many of the folk that came to our registration are working people. They had to come after hours, but they came and were willing. They pledge to our country their support and willing to do all that they can do. 

Civilian Defense Group Leader: Mr. President of the United States, greetings from the colored women of Nashville. When our leader returned from Washington in conference with Mrs. Roosevelt and ??? requested that the colored women organize for civilian defense and divided the Nashville into five groups, North, East, South, West, and Central of which I am the district chairman of the Central group. And in the past two months have organized two first-aid classes and three large knitting classes. We are very proud of our opportunity to show our loyalty to our country and ask that our men be given an equal chance in the army, navy, and air force. 

William Hill: Dear Mr. President, my name is William Hill, Boys Club worker. In the city of Nashville, [the anthem of the South (?)], the Negroes are doing all that they can do to help in this emergency. The government has set up classes in auto mechanics, molding, and smithing. A large number of Negroes have volunteered in the classes in knitting, sewing, nurses aid, and first-aid. All the boys and men were interested in the recent registration for civilian defense. They came seeking information trying to find out the things that they were best fitted for and the things that they could do. And they were willing to take classes and better fit themselves for this national defense program. 

Leddie Galloway: My dear Mr. President, this is Leddie Galloway, girls worker and community organizer at Fisk Social Center. My work is with the great percentage, greatest percentage I would say, of poor Negroes in a congested area of the city. Recently, I have been observing something to me that is very important, I think, in defense. And that is a new awareness of interest among these people in defense. Now, of course, this is something that is natural I would say, because they're soldiers and defense workers in the families. But this awareness and interest has also made me very interested in defense, too. And I'd like to do my bit. It seems that I have developed a problem within myself and that is one of interpreting news to these people. It's a funny thing, hearsay and word to-mouth news is something that is very, that isn't unusual at all I might say. One day, Mrs. Watson came into to the office and told me that she heard that all of the people who were receiving old age assistance were going to be put in the war on the first line. And of course this is the type of thing I have to combat with.



Recording AFS 6441, Side A (no side B)





Andrew J. Steele
1931 Graduate
Tennessee A&I
A. J. Steel: Dear Mr. President, this is A. J. Steel, a salesman from Nashville, Tennessee. Now that we are at war we are very anxious to do our part for the defense of democracy. We're anxious to serve where we can do the most good. In my opinion, we can do this best by holding government positions that our training fits us best for. There are many efficient Negroes who could do so much for their country in these capacities. Such would not only help the United States directly, but indirectly as well by showing the world that we have a democratic government with all of its people living together, working together, and willing to die together if need be for the common good. Then we can truly secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity. 

Grafta Mosby Looby-Westbrook
Grafton [Mosby] Looby [wife of Z Alexander Looby]: Dear Mr. President, my name is Grafton Looby. I am a teacher, a secretary of commerce in a defense setup at the 18th Avenue Youth Center. We have three defense classes, one in secretarial commerce, one in homemaking, and the other in the related subjects. They are designed for the purpose of training secretaries and domestics. We are hoping that these classes may continue so that the Negro youth in this city will have an opportunity to prepare himself to do his share in the defense program of his country. And also to prepare himself for the changing condition which must come with peace. 

Marie Burgette Johnson
Mrs. C. S. Johnson [Marie Antoinette Burgette, wife of Charles S. Johnson of Fisk]: Dear Mr. President, I am Mrs. C. S. Johnson, General Chairman of the Nashville Block Organization for Colored Citizens. As you move about the city, we are impressed with the eager response of our people of all classes to each request made of them in the civilian defense program. We have discovered that they believe in you. As Mrs. Roosevelt has recently said, we feel as if we are standing upon a solid rock and that rock is our faith in our fellow citizens. In the face of this optimism however, we are faithfully met with one increasing fear which we pass onto you. Namely that the continuous flow of information regarding the location and magnitude of our defense industries and production centers is needlessly exposing our vulnerability to the enemy. And this one weakness in our system may blast in a moment this rock of civilian solidarity upon which we are building and upon which our victory must ultimately rest. We appeal to you therefore Mr. President and to the Congress to exercise all just powers to control those items in the daily news and syndicated columns which we Americans can well forego for the present without sacrificing any of our coveted liberties. To the end that we ourselves may know our weaknesses and our enemies may only be aware of our gathering strength.

Arvin Bradford: Dear Mr. President, this is Arvin Bradford, a graduate student, Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University. My loyalty is with the fighting forces of United States. I feel that as a student and as a boys work leader I can keep abreast with what is going on in the world, urge Negro boys to train themselves for skilled jobs, and help defeat the enemy from without. At the same time, I feel that it is my duty to join hands with organizations that are fighting enemies within in our borders. If we stand idly by and permit hostile forces to destroy the principles for which Negro boys are fighting to preserve, I think that we will be defeating our own purposes.



AFS 6442, Side B (no side A)
Lewis Jones: Dear Mr. President, this is Lewis Jones, a social research worker who has been about the country a lot in the last few months and has heard varying opinions and attitudes of Negroes toward the present war and the war effort. And this afternoon we've gotten a group of friends who represent various points of view and we're going to talk it out and argue our various points of view for your benefit. Now the next person you'll hear is Will Gilchrist, a barber, who has opportunity to observe and hear the various opinions regarding the war as Negroes, and express them. And from his experience and the opinions that he's formed, he's going to say what he thinks about the war. 

Will Gilchrist (barber): Well, I myself, I'm for it a hundred percent. The war effort, I'm behind it. But it's a lot of people that I hear and come into contact with they're not so hot about it. But I've met several fellows that was down and out and gone to the war, army and come back on furlough and they looking better. For the most part most of them speak well of it. And it's a possibility that some of the people that are against it now and talk when something happens like the incident at Pearl Harbor that'll change their minds. It's changed a lot of them now because they said it was impossible for any foreign nation to attack us and we were safe. The president was a war monger. They were listening to different talkers like Wheeler and [Lindenburgh (?)], but they know now that it is possible for us to be attacked, but they still aren't hot, they're just luke-warm. And maybe something else will happen. If they ever drop any bombs on New York or Frisco I know then that we'll all be into it. ??? 

Unidentified Man: Tell them they're going to ??? Shook. 

Lewis Jones: The next person you're going to hear is Henry Shook, a grocery clerk who has certain attitudes toward the war and the Negroes' position in it that is very interesting. 

Henry Shook: I hear Mr. Gilchrist. I wholly agree with him. We've always been loyal to the calls and the war of this which is the greatest war I do believe. I think we should put forth all efforts which has been done by the Negroes in this war and other wars. But I do say, at the present, probably Mr. Hitler or Japan might not be the greatest enemy we have for the simple reason we can't have internal troubles. And unless we work together in and thresh out the little misdemeanors that has been happening prior to the time, we've got to do something to curb the misunderstanding between minor groups and the groups which are oppressed and robbed of opportunities to share here in this country, which is a free country. Although sometimes we are set aside and oppressed and have it from every angle. So therefore this time, let's do something here at home so that we can make it possible that victory will be equally shared with all, which I'm sure we'll win with cooperation.


AFS 6443, Side A



Lewis Jones: Mr. Russell, you have a son in the navy, what is your attitude toward the war? 

G. W. Russell (janitor for a University): My attitude towards the war is a hundred percent, see. And I'm very much in favor of the war going on. And everything as we want to push this thing as much as possible. See, I have a son in the navy. He was home not long since and he's very anxious. He thinks that's one of the best things for a Negro that ever happens, to be in the navy. And he says a great thing and he's in favor of the war and pushing the war as a man. He's had quite a success since he's been there and he seems to be getting along just fine and he thinks that Negroes ought to go forward a hundred percent. 

Lewis Jones: The last person you heard was G. W. Russell, building custodian, who as he stated has a son in the navy and therefore a great interest in the prosecution of the war. The next person that you will hear is Harold Thomas, a business agent for the Nashville Negro Carpenters. 

Harold Thomas: As a business agent for Local 1937 Carpenters Union, I'm in a position to go around and to get the attitudes of the various employers as regards Negro carpenters. In this capacity, I have interviewed several contractors and found their attitudes so interesting that I've made several notes, most of them are altogether antagonistic in so far as the employment of Negroes is concerned. In this little notebook that I've kept, I have various statements that some of the contractors gave when I asked them to employ Negro carpenters. This is one: Mr. R. M. Condra of the Condra Construction Company and I quote: “I'm a southerner, born in the South and don't believe Negroes can do nothing. We haven't been hiring niggers and don't intend to start it now.” Now that was his attitude and is representative of quite a few of the contractors here in the South. I've found that in the various neighboring communities that contractors that come from further south than here have a more brotherly attitude you might say, because they do hire these Negro carpenters when once given a chance. 

Lewis Jones: Well Thomas, do you think that Negroes are going to have a chance to participate in the building of the new camp near Clarksville? 

Harold Thomas: I do think so. I have interviewed the construction quartermaster there and he seems to be very much in favor of the hiring, not only of Negroes, but of any other sort of help he that thinks he'll need there.

Lewis Jones: Well, the next voice that you're going to hear is that of Leslie W. Beesley, a public school teacher. 

Leslie W. Beesley: My personal attitude toward the Negro in the present crisis is one of the Negro doing all that he can to foster the winning of the war by the American nation. But I must say that the Negro has more than one purpose in this great fight. The Negro has a threefold purpose. His first fight is to get a place in the army where he can do his best for the country. His next fight is, of course, to win the war. And his third fight, I think, is to maintain the status that he gains while the war is going on after the war has ended.


AFS 6443, Side B

Lewis Jones: Well, Gilchrist what did you start to say? 

Will Gilchrist: Well as I said before I'm behind the president and his war effort a hundred percent. But there are some things that it being said that's detrimental to the cause. Now over the radio station here, every day the announcer says that they want marines, and in the end he says they must be white. They used to say that, but they don't say it anymore, but it's all the same. Negroes really can't get in it. And when I hear Mr. Russell over there said that he has a son in the navy and that he's behind it one hundred percent, and that he is advancing, it's pitiful because he can't advance far. And then there's Mr. Shook. He's figuring that the Negro has been oppressed. Mr. Thomas figures the Negroes haven't been given a chance in labor and Mr. Beesley says that it's a threefold fact. But I disagree with all of them so far as the war is concerned right now, I don't think now's the time for that. I think the main thing that we should do is to everybody get in there and fight and win the war. And if the Negro does his part I believe he will get his share. 

Harold Thomas: Mr. Gilchrist you said just now that you didn't think now was the time. I think that right now is the time. You should hit while the iron is hot. If we don't get anything now there's no way for us to get it later. And what we're getting now we want to see to it that we can hold after the war is over. That's my attitude. 

Will Gilchrist: It seems to me like Mr. Thomas is like a man that has a friend and he gets sick and down and out and he jumps on him with both feet when he really needs help. We don't have no time now for argument. We've got to fight and win the war and then we can settle all of this. 

Unidentified Man: Mr. Gilchrist, in answer to Mr. Thomas, I agree Mr. Thomas for this reason. This isn't the first time or this isn't the first time we've been sick. So if you keep on getting sick and you keep on sending aid both of you will be sick. So therefore why not now make provisions to look after all groups. I don't think that, back to the labor unions, I don't think that the contractors or the head official will be doing the Negro so much a favor as to what is due him since we pay taxes and are natural born citizens more so. More so, why shouldn't we share all of the rights?

Mr. Gilchrist: I didn't say that it was right. I have never said that. I told you in the first place that they don't even allow Negroes to join the marines. I know that's not right. I'm against that. But, I said now we can't stop to argue about nothing. We've got to go in here and fight. 

Unidentified man: Mr. Gilchrist, don't you feel that the Negro have capabilities that should allow him to participate in any branch of the service? And if allowed to participate in any branch of the service, he would be of much more service to the country than he would if he was segregated against and continued to fight in the parts of the service in which he doesn't feel that he wants to fight and naturally can't fight as well as he would if he was fighting in the service that he thought he was best suited for? 

Unidentified man: And also, Mr. Gilchrist since we're on this labor union here at home, this home defense. Why shouldn't we be able to make the same money to buy defense bonds and help if we can't actually participate in the war why not buy bonds and do other things that would help our sons who are abroad to carry this war on to a finish. 

Mr. Gilchrist: Well, as I said, I still say that I know that we should be hired in the industries. But we can't stop work while we argue. We can argue and then work too. We should go into it a hundred percent working and then the president, he has a duty. He knows and I think he has influence. He can see to it, I don't want you to get the wrong idea now that I'm for the discrimination. I know doggone good and well that we should get a share in it and I think we will. But I think to be antagonistic won't help any. I believe we should go forward and do all we can for this thing.

Recording AFS 6444, Side A
Unidentified Man: Well, Mr. Gilchrist. Don't you think that the spirit that is demonstrated as to the treatment of Negroes now right in the southland can foster fertile ground for the various isms that are. And don't you think that if the higher-ups would do all that was in their power to get those people in the South, with which we have to live, to work along with us and become neighborly and more brotherly, that we could and would feel more disposed to do our upmost towards winning the war? 

Mr. Gilchrist: I hardly agree with you there. I agree with you, but yet we, as I foresaid, we've got to fight. Now the happening in Missouri the other day that didn't do any good for the cause. They took a Negro out and lynched him. It looked like just now that they would be trying to do all they could to bring about better race relations. And I hate to see such things because I want us to win and I'm behind it. And even though that happened that don't change my mind any. I'm still behind it, but that puts a lot of people against it. I mean a lot of men that was speaking kind of in favor of it, colored people, they says “See there, that's just like — they done started and the war ain't over yet.” And they go ahead and tell about instances that happened before in a town down south when a Negro came back home and they ran him off to [square (?)]. Told him to get home and pull that uniform on. No Negro could wear the United States uniform in that town, even though he'd been overseas and fought and bled for us. 

Unidentified man: And speaking of incidents that happened that probably poisoned the minds of people. While quite a small child standing in front of the capital in the state of Tennessee, I saw an Armistice Day parade in 1919 in which all of the ROTCs of the various white schools — of course we had no ROTC in the Negro schools in Nashville — marched right up the streets with the soldiers who had been abroad and had a big welcome sign on the streets of Nashville welcoming the soldiers back home. When the Negro soldiers got to this welcoming sign they were asked to turn to their right and go down a block and come around. They weren't allowed to come under the sign. Now that thing stayed with me a long time, but it hasn't dampened my spirit to the extent that I don't want to do what I can for the betterment of my country during this crisis. But I do feel, as Mr. Thomas feels, that every effort should be made on the part of the higher-ups in the white race to get the Negro to cooperate a hundred percent. Even those who have been poisoned as I was when I was a small child. 

Unidentified Man: Mr. Beesley, I want to ask you this. What's the attitude of the young high school boys toward the war? Are they anxious to go to war and get in the civilian industries?

Leslie W. Beesley: The majority of the boys ??? the army, but for some reason they want to go into the navy. And it has been my policy to tell them that if they wanted to give service to the country, by all means go into the armed forces in the army rather than into the navy, because so much discrimination is shown in the navy and they weren't allowed to progress.


Recording AFS 6444, Side B

Lewis Jones: Well, I think that some things are getting better and we're getting some friends aware of the fact that we should all work together and that our productive plant and our army have all got to require every citizen of the country. And the thing that we are having trouble with now is making the folks let us do our part to defend our country. Course I find that the labor groups are getting better. I mean, I am a delegate to the Central Trades Council, Nashville, and last week the Trades Council voted with only one dissenting vote to give Negroes defense training here in the city. While we have some trouble with the school officials in getting it through, but I think it's very interesting to notice some gains, particularly in the ranks of AF of L where people have been discriminated against in the labor movement. 

Harold Thomas: Mr. Jones, right here I would like to say that there has been quite a bit of progress along this line. I recall when the president's executive order came out ordering all industrialists to disregard color and race in the hiring of their employees, but since that time some of them have assumed a less belligerent attitude. At one time, although the contractors in this immediate community would not hire these colored carpenters, contractors have been working down at Tullahoma, Tennessee did take all the men we had. But they were not men right of Nashville here, but from further south down in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Mr. Gilchrist: Well, I think to just tell them, Mr. President, just to tell the labor heads alone that they must not discriminate is not enough. I think you'll have to do something about it. Although the Negroes are going to fight, I know that, they talk a lot about what they ain't going to do, but when the time comes you can always depend on them. But I do think that you could ease the strain a lot by putting in some kind of method whereby you could force these people that's making the money from the government by making airplanes and different things to give these Negroes a job. They have an airplane plant here, and they don't have any help out there at all that is colored with the exception of toilet attendants. They have about four, maybe eight that work in the toilets and that's as far as they can go. And it's not that Negroes aren't able to do it, but they just can't do it. They won't hire them if they're colored. 

Unidentified man: Mr. Gilchrist, this is the first time I really agreed with you and I think that brings back the point of the tense, and that is the present tense. And we want that now, we can't wait until the war is over to say to the higher officials who are in charge at the present to see that Negroes get a share, a equal chance, to work in these plants and to do their bit. So now, why not see to it that we do get the place in the said jobs.

Unidentified Man: In all fairness, I would like to say that there's not much that the Negro can do in a plant such as a Vultee Aircraft Plant because first of all he isn't given the training thereby he'd be able to do the work. What I am strongly for is to give the Negro a chance to learn these trades where he will be of some service in these plants. And what we need in Nashville, most of all, and throughout the South, are defense schools where we can get these boys and, these boys the training for this type of work. And naturally we have a white school, but they have to beg for it to take the trade. But if you offered it to Negro I'm sure they'd be run over with Negroes there attempting to learn to do these types of work where they can make salaries in these defense plants.




Dr. W. S. Ellington, Jr.: This is Dr. W. S. Ellington, Jr. dentist of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, as I thank you for your Fireside Chats which seem so like confidential talks between friends at the close of a busy day, I'm thinking of fifteen million Negroes who are among the most loyal citizens in the United States. In the face of discrimination and segregation, the Negro has remained one hundred percent loyal. What greater proof than a Joe Louis benefit for the navy, a branch of our armed services which has never permitted his race to rise above the ship's galley. These millions of Negroes are doing all in their power to serve in the present crisis. Most defense industries are closed to him. The possibility of advancement in the army is definitely limited. If democracy is to survive, if democracy is ever to be made to work, our generation must make it work. We want, as you do, to perpetuate the democratic way of life. Do all in your power, as we are doing, to remove the barriers, raise the ceilings, unshackle the loyalties, release the energies and the initiative of this loyal race, that together all Americans, all liberty-loving peoples may give their all that our way of life may survive. 

Mrs. Julia T. Galvin: This is Mrs. Julia T. Galvin a stenographer of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. President, in this section of the United States it seems to me that there are two outstanding problems confronting us now. They have to do with our Negro soldiers and with taxation. In certain parts of our country, the uniform of our army is not properly respected. Our loyal black boys in uniform should be protected while they are in camp. The ruthless beating up and murder of them should be stopped. This sort of thing breaks down the morale of any army. Every loyal soldier is an important factor in our defense program. It'll take a lot of money to win this war. We're going to win and we're going to sacrifice all we have for our country. But it has become a problem to know how to meet these new taxes and keep up the old ones with our limited incomes which have not increased with the increased demand of heavier taxation. If we borrow we're plunged into debt and citizens in debt cannot prevent a stronger defense as we desire, but we have pledged ourselves to do our best. 

Miss Carrie Timberlake: Mr. President, I am Miss Carrie Timberlake of Nashville, Tennessee. I am employed as an elevator operator. I am interested in the progress of our country. We do not have guns, but we are using our dollars in the aid of defense. We are fighting for a democratic way of life for ourselves and for the people now enslaved by the demagogues of Europe.