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The Armed Forces Integrate

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Struggling to Integrate

National Archives and Records Administration
In dozens of interviews fifty years later, black and white veterans of Korea remember integration as generally smooth and peaceful. But there were certainly problems, especially when it came to the new experience of blacks commanding whites. Mark Hannah of Wichita, Kansas was assigned to lead a white combat unit, "They didn't want me to become their squad leader, so they said, 'Well, we'll just kill the nigger. We've never had a nigger tell us what to do and we're not going to start now.'" The commander offered Hannah a choice - stay and be his jeep driver or find another unit. Hannah transferred out.

Enemy propaganda tried to exploit racial tensions among the U.S. troops. Static-filled radio broadcasts from the Chinese capital of Peking tried to stir up outrage among blacks about fighting for a segregated democracy. Combat veterans Curtis Morrow and Samuel King say the enemy would also drop leaflets into their foxholes.

"We all saw those pictures of a black man being hung and a bunch of white faces eating popcorn and little kids jeering and laughing and in the caption beneath the picture they would have 'Why are you here? Why are you fighting us? Is this what you're fighting for?'" recalls Morrow.

King says, "It was an embarrassment for us to have someone in a foreign country know how we were being treated. And we over here fighting these people to make it better for someone back home and we get back home and it's not going to be any better and we knew that, yet and still we had a job to do and we felt that we should do it."

To fight the cold war propaganda battle, the U.S. military made a proud display of integration success stories. This installment of Time for Defense contradicted one stereotype - that blacks were poor soldiers - while repeating another.

"No story about the American Negro soldier would be complete without a spiritual. So let's return to the 96th for just a bit more, while some of the resting gunners sing 'I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.' "

Next: Laying the Groundwork for Civil Rights

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