Two-Front War: African Americans’ Fight for Victory at Home and Abroad

Guiding Question:

How did African Americans’ experiences and accomplishments battling discrimination during World War II serve as a foundation for the Civil Rights Movement?


Working in groups, students will be exposed to various aspects of the African American wartime experience. Analyzing different types of sources, each group will draw conclusions, make connections and share its findings with the class, who ultimately will gain a multi-faceted understanding of the topic.


Historical Context

Facing fierce opposition from the Axis Powers, immense logistical challenges in a two-ocean war, and relentless industrial demands as the self-styled arsenal of democracy, the United States needed all hands on deck to achieve its objectives. This meant calling upon African Americans in often unprecedented ways, both on the home front and in the theaters of war. African American civilians and soldiers were typically enthusiastic about doing their part, but were also deeply aware of the racism and discrimination that oftentimes made their service more difficult and dangerous. African American newspapers popularized the “Double V Campaign” that helped articulate the idea of striving for two victories: defeating the enemy abroad and defeating racism at home. This laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. African Americans’ efforts, contributions and sacrifices during the war motivated many to demand first-class citizenship, which was granted layer by layer during the war and in the two decades that followed. Although many trace the beginnings of the modern Civil Rights Movement to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, Greensboro sit-ins of the 1960s, or other singular events, the contributions of African Americans during World War II became a vital stepping stone on the path toward racial equality.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe several roles that African Americans played on the battlefield and on the home front during World War II;
  • Explain obstacles and adversity that African Americans faced during World War II; and
  • Analyze the connections between the "Double V Campaign" and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.3 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework

D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

D2.His.15.9-12. Distinguish between long-term causes and triggering events in developing a historical argument.

D2.Civ.14.6-8. Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.

D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One (30 minutes)

  • Show the short film, U.S. Air Force Tuskegee Airmen Double Victory, to the entire class.
  • Ask students to explain main points or key ideas (including Double Victory) from the video. Clear up any misconceptions that might arise. Ensure students are aware of when World War II took place and when the heart of the Civil Rights Movement occurred.
    • Teacher Tip: Provide a brief historical context to the Tuskegee Airmen. Pages three and four of the “Fighting for the Right To Fight” resource can be helpful.
  • Lead a whole-class debrief to discuss some of the students’ responses from the previous step, ensuring that they understand the significance of each event or fact. Ask the students why contributing to the war effort would have carried special significance for African Americans as compared to doing a job or task unrelated to the war.

Activity Two (15 minutes)

  • Divide class into groups of three or four students each, using pairs only if the two students are particularly capable.
  • Assign each group one document set. Ask each group to discuss how these primary sources help them connect the experience of African Americans in World War II to the origins of the Civil Rights Movement.
    • Teacher Tip: Please note that group four will need a device to watch a short oral history video. Remind students to just watch from 29:22 to 33:13.
  • Circulate throughout the room to guide and support student understanding.
    • Teacher Tip: Avoid directly answering many of their questions; instead, answer their question with a question or a suggestion to lead them toward drawing their own conclusion. Ensure the students do as much of the thinking as possible.

Assessment Materials

  • Shuffle the groups so that each group has one member from each document set. Ask students to share a summary of their primary sources with the group. Ask each group to connect the experience of African Americans in World War II to the origins of the Civil Rights Movement. Circulate around the room and check for understanding as needed. If preferred, the documents can be reviewed with the whole class.
  • Review the instructions and the rubric for the Birth Certificate of the Civil Rights Movement and direct students to complete the blank certificate. The activity can be completed independently or in groups, at teacher discretion.
  • Circulate throughout the room to guide and support successful student completion of the Birth Certificate of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The Birth Certificate of the Civil Rights Movement Rubric can be used to assess the final product.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can write a letter from a person referenced in their source(s) to a person referenced in another group’s source(s), making sure the letter conveys an understanding of both historical figures and the "Double V" Campaign.
  • Students can research African American achievements during World War II, such as:
    • Dorie Miller, considered by some as the first hero of the Pearl Harbor attack;
    • The Montford Point Marines, the first African American Marines;
    • General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., a War Department adviser who trained and led African American soldiers;
    • General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the Tuskegee Airmen’s commanders;
    • William Hastie, a prominent attorney and War Department official who helped develop policies on the use of African American manpower and recruit African American soldiers;
    • Dr. Charles Drew, the pioneering scientist who led the Blood for Britain campaign and whose methods of preserving and transporting blood saved thousands of soldiers’ lives; or
    • The Port Chicago Mutiny, which led to a 1944 trial as Thurgood Marshall helped advocate for soldiers who refused to work in unsafe conditions after an explosion killed 320 people, including 202 African American sailors.
  • Students with more interest in the origins of the Civil Rights Movement can research developments outside the context of World War II, including:
    • Supreme Court civil rights cases Smith v. Allwright (1944) Morgan v. Virginia (1946), Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), Hernandez v. Texas (1954);
    • The NAACP-led anti-lynching campaign of the 1930s;
    • Philip Randolph’s 1941 attempt to stage a March on Washington;
    • The 1947 Journey of Reconciliation that was a precursor to the Freedom Rides; and
    • Efforts by the U.S. government to counter a Soviet Union-led media campaign spotlighting U.S. racial injustice.
  • Teachers can enhance students’ interest in the role of African Americans in World War II by exploring these related lesson plans on


  • If you form more than five groups, assign the same materials to more than one group. This is preferable to creating groups of five or more students because, in groups that are too large, some individuals tend to be less engaged or productive.
  • Activity One also can be done in small groups, followed by a whole-class debrief and discussion.
  • If you have additional time or if you feel your students need more scaffolding, you can create one birth certificate with the entire class before splitting off each group to complete its own. Or, you can create a model ahead of time that you share with the students before they do their own.


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