Throughout WWII, U.S. armed forces remained segregated along racial lines. Even though over 900,000 African-Americans served in the armed forces during the war—proving their worth time and again—they were still viewed with suspicion by many of their white commanding officers and others.
LaMont Martin of Gulfport was drafted into the Army after graduating high school in 1942. In this episode, he shares some of his memories from that time, like how he and his buddy got left behind when the bus carrying them to Fort Benning, Georgia stopped for a meal in Alabama. After basic training, Martin was stationed in Massachusetts before being deployed to the European Theater. He remembers the day that he and a fellow soldier accidently wandered into a “white” USO club while visiting Boston.
Waiting to cross the English Channel into France, black soldiers were restricted from fraternizing with English women. LaMont Martin discusses the prevailing attitudes of that time and remembers how the reported rape of a German woman almost led to a race riot and the court-martial of their entire company.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew, and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Clara Watson has many pleasant memories of growing up in Biloxi during the 1940s. The status quo nature of segregation so thoroughly permeated life that it wasn’t given much thought. In this episode, she explains how the city’s liberal atmosphere shielded her from the racial tensions faced by other black Mississippians. For instance, before the Civil Rights Movement, black customers were often turned away from white-owned businesses, but for Watson, the large number of black vendors and business-owners in her Biloxi neighborhood, blunted the impact of those imposed restrictions.
According to Watson, black residents of Biloxi had always been allowed to go to the beach and it was only after she was grown that property owners began trying to enforce a whites-only policy. On April 24, 1960, Dr. Gilbert Mason led a group of 125 black citizens to protest the “whites-only” policy at Biloxi Beach. In response, local white leaders organized a mob to attack the group and turn them back. Watson recalls the events of that day and some whites who were on opposing sides of the issue.
When civil rights workers came to the coast in 1964, Clara Watson helped them and participated in marches. She describes Biloxi as a safe haven activists could use as a base of operations.
CAUTION: CONTAINS FRANK AND RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In 1999, Erik Robert Fleming became the fiftieth African American to enter the Mississippi legislature in the modern era. He discusses why he became interested in becoming a politician. Fleming also comments on race relations within the legislature and the need for coalitions.