Historical Background of Crazy for this Democracy

In “Crazy for this Democracy,” Zora Neale Hurston critiques the rhetoric around democracy, equality, freedom and justice in the United States. She uses the metaphor of disease to critique the failure of the United States to deliver democracy both abroad and at home. Since we were going to be talking about the piece itself, I wanted to look at the historical context of the moment–World War II. Specifically, the role of African Americans and other minorities. African Americans have had a long history of serving in American wars dating back to the Revolutionary War. 

World War II lasted from 1939-1945. It was caused by a number of things including the Treaty of Versailles which led to the economic ruin of Germany, Japanese expansion into Manchuria, the rise of fascism and communism, the allies of World War I trying to appease Germany by giving them what they want, and the despair caused by the Great Depression. World War II was a war for resources–economic power, industrial insulation and natural resources.

The Arsenal of Democracy is a slogan used by FDR in a radio broadcast in 1940 to dispel American complacency in isolation during WWII. This speech rallied the American people, including African Americans. For many African Americans, the war offered an opportunity to get out of the cycle of crushing rural poverty. Blacks joined the military in large numbers, escaping a decade of Depression and tenant farming in the South and Midwest. Yet, like the rest of America in the 1940s, the armed forces were segregated. This is the time that we get the Tuskegee Airmen and other segregated infantry. The breakdown began as early as Pearl Harbor. As the battleship U.S.S. Arizona was sinking and still under attack, a Negro seaman who had been trained as nothing but a mess man rushed to the deck, grabbed an unmanned anti-aircraft machinegun and kept firing until his ammunition ran out. Only then did he abandon ship. For months, the Navy refused to even identify the sailor. Negro newspapers kept the story alive, and the Navy finally identified him as Dorie Miller and awarded him a medal in the most recent years. Even after the war, life was not great for African Americans and other minorities who participated in the war. 

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