Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, considered that the Black newspapers’ reports about World War II and Jim Crow laws treason against the government. He tried to sue the Black press to shut them down and stop them from maintaining the truth about discrimination among the troops and at home. John Sengstacke, new publisher for the Chicago Defender, heard of his intentions, and demanded to speak with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke convinced Biddle that it was just the job of the Black press to report the truth, and Biddle agreed to stop Hoover’s efforts against the newspapers. As a result, the Black press stayed in business, and over two million readers were supporting it by the end of the War in 1945. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to continue telling this story in the AFRO-American Newspaper.
December 7, 2014
What were their names, tell me, what were their names? Did you have a father, friend or brother on those ships? Tell me what were their names?
They wore the blue and white, with its thirteen buttons, so gallantly, they flew the stars and stripes so proudly. On that fateful day in December, 1941 they stepped up to the mission so boldly, please tell me now what were their names?
For those of you who know how much I like to tell stories from the backroads of Americana, this is especially interesting, one that the press will not tell you.
Who were these Black men and what were their names?
There were times when I would drive to Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor at dawn to listen for the sounds of the spirits that still haunt the location of the first strike of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and make friends with some of the survivors. Therefore so much of this story is first hand.
The sun rose early peeping over Koko Crater, with its light barely reaching toward Diamond Head, turning the lush black mountains to green, and casting shadows over Honolulu. Sunrise is always beautiful in Hawai`i. The rays danced on the ocean like flakes of gold. The balmy breezes blowing gently against your skin, pushed waves gently to shore, Malolo skimming across the ocean acting more like birds than fish and the dolphins played tag with the early morning fishermen’s catch.
Honolulu was dressed for Sunday, all sparkling and bright. KGU radio was playing Glenn Miller’s “Sunrise Serenade” as people rushed off to church, praying that yesterday’s Honolulu Advertiser newspaper, (Dec 6, 1941) was wrong . . .warning of an attack from Japan.
Officers mess on a cruiser, World War II.
Sunday morning breakfast in the all-white officers’ wardroom on board the West Virginia was being served by the “colored messmen” later than usual; as it was on all of the other 150 ships stationed at Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, due to the lavish party at the Officers’ club the night before.
For Doris, Zoilo, Ignacio and William Jeremiah Powell while serving breakfast that morning, never dreamed that day in 1941, was the time for them to be a hero.
Stationed at Pearl Harbor in the winter was a blessing, he joked with his family back home in Waco. There had been rumors of war with Japan since 1931, but no one in America really believed it, especially Dorie.
World War II Messman Attendant Second Class Doris Miller’s acts of valor at Pearl Harbor on the opening day of the War made him a hero of epic proportions. Miller, knowing of the racial limitations, joined the Navy on Sept. 16, 1939, saying “it beats sitting around Waco working as a bus boy, going nowhere.”
World War II non-white sailors were stripped of their dignity, their “somebodyness.” Regardless of their education they were expected to be messmen, stewards and cabin boys, not trained for combat. They did not even wear the traditional anchor on their uniforms.
Secretary of the Navy (Colonel) Frank Knox, (former publisher of the Chicago Daily News and the 1936 G.O.P. vice-presidential nominee) wrote “the policy of not enlisting men of the colored races for any branch of the naval service but the Messman branch was adopted to meet the best interests of general ship efficiency.”
Barbed wire lined beaches of Waikiki to protect against seaborn invasions.
Leaving home on the “back of the bus” for the recruiting station in Dallas and on the segregated “Super Chief” train, heading for training at the Messman School in Norfolk Virginia; Doris was assigned to duty on the “battlewagon” Battleship USS West Virginia. He fully expected to find “paradise’ when, in the spring of 1941, when the ship’s homeport was changed from California to the Hawaiian Islands. Instead he found more segregation in Hawai`i. All of the clubs played “jazz” and other Black music but only three bars in Honolulu’s Chinatown allowed African-American service men.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel was “off limits” to “Colored” service personnel with rolls and rolls of barbed wire planted in the beach in Waikiki was for white servicemen only. While a train ride along the Wai`anae coast was beautiful, the native Hawaiians warm and friendly. Blacks or Hawaiians could not venture beyond Wailupe Circle going east.
1940 Hawaii was a colonial society. The white elites in league with the U.S. Navy had ruled completely since 1893 when they engineered the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy.
More of the story in Arts and Culture on Afro.com and in next week’s paper.