Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII opens at The Durham Museum
EXHIBIT ON DISPLAY FEBRUARY 17 – JULY 15, 2018
In the years leading up to World War II, racial segregation and discrimination were part of daily life for many in the United States. For most African Americans, even the most basic rights and services were fragmented or denied altogether. To be black was to know the limits of freedom—excluded from the very opportunity, equality and justice on which the country was founded. Yet, once World War II began, thousands of African Americans rushed to enlist, intent on serving the nation that treated them as second-class citizens. They were determined to fight to preserve the freedom that they themselves had been denied.
Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII features artifacts, photographs and oral histories to highlight some of the extraordinary achievements and challenges of African Americans during World War II, both overseas and at home. It illustrates how hopes for securing equality inspired many to enlist, the discouraging reality of the segregated non-combat roles given to black recruits and the continuing fight for “Double Victory” that laid the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement. Through a myriad of interactive experiences, visitors will discover the wartime stories of individual service members who took part in this journey of extraordinary challenge, from unheralded heroes to famous names, including Alex Haley (US Coast Guard); Sammy Davis, Jr. (US Army); Benjamin Davis, Jr. (US Army Air Forces); Medgar Evers (US Army) and more. The centerpiece of the exhibit is an original eight-minute video about the famed 332nd Fighter Group (better known as the Tuskegee Airmen), who in many ways became the public focus of African American participation during the war. Additionally, two medals are featured that represent the seven African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997, the bittersweet result of a long investigation by the US military on discriminatory policies in the awarding of combat medals. The exhibit will also provide in-depth coverage of lesser-known events and service, such as that of the USS Mason, the first American ship to have a predominately African American crew.
Fighting for the Right to Fight was developed by The National WWII Museum of New Orleans, LA, and is sponsored nationally by Abbott Downing and Wells Fargo. A national advisory committee, including the late Dr. Clement Alexander Price of Rutgers University, was commissioned to help frame the exhibition. The committee, led by co-chairs Dr. John Morrow of the University of Georgia and Claudine Brown of the Smithsonian Institution, helped advise on the exhibition’s narrative arc and content.
The exhibit is supported locally by Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitor Improvement Fund, John K. and Lynne D. Boyer Family Foundation and Lincoln Financial Foundation. Media support provided by KETV Newswatch 7. Special programming support provided by Cox Communications and Kutak Rock, LLP.