Yelim Youm

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Uplifting Minorities
Yelim Youm

Historically, the South and therefore, Georgia, has had an unfortunate reputation for a tendency to mistreat its minorities. From the beginning of the nation’s history to the Civil War, slaves figured largely in the South’s economy. It also proved itself to be harsher than the North and West in its treatment of women, and this trait of mistreatment lived on through the establishment of the nation and the Civil War, through the Civil Rights Era and can be said to still exist today. However, despite these obstacles, the minority population of Georgia still became one of the greatest sources of aid for the nation when war broke out in the cold winter days of 1941. In return, the war increased their social and economic standing, changing the course of their history permanently.

Before the declaration of war on the Axis by the United States in 1941, the majority of significant jobs had been held by white men. African-Americans and women were seen as inherently inferior; women’s sphere of influence was still in the home, and African-Americans were still working very low-wage, very low-status jobs. Needless to say, neither group had much political influence, either, with the exception of women’s recently-gotten right to vote twenty years ago. However, World War II and its desperate need for manpower drained the nation of able-bodied men, taking between 40 and 45 percent of males (between the ages of 18 and 44, and mostly white) from Georgia. And thus these two, previously overlooked groups were able to step into the spotlight and provide the nation with the manpower it needed. To meet the increased production needs of a nation in the midst of war, many women jumped into factories and other workplaces to aid the country. Nationwide, the percentage of women in the workforce rose from 24% to 36% by the war’s end. And this phenomenon was taking root in Georgia, too, as women took over traditionally male-dominated jobs such as those in factories. For example, during this time, 37% of the workers in the Bell Aircraft plant of Marietta, Georgia, were women. African-American workers took advantage of the same drainage of white men, and sought better jobs and opportunities. Because of the labor shortages, they were able to organize in huge numbers and demand higher pay than they had ever demanded. And, sometimes, they succeeded—though failure often met their efforts. However, this holds true for both women and African-Americans: though most women and African-Americans abandoned such jobs when white men began coming home back from the war, World War II certainly paved the way for the changes to come in the future. And, of course, it was thanks to the efforts of these patriotic citizens that the U. S. could remain so strong even in the midst of a world war.

Minorities in Georgia also helped fill the war’s never-ending need for manpower that all the white men in the nation could not provide. Women from all walks of life entered the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the first organization that allowed women other than nurses to serve in the military, during this time period. They made medical supplies for use in healing injuries sustained in the heat of battle; they helped keep soldiers’ morale up through organizations such as the United Service Organization; they were made sergeants. The first African-American general emerged during this time period; on October 25, 1940, Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr., was made a brigadier general—a monumental achievement in African-American history. These breakthroughs paved the way for future advancements for the role of minorities in the military. Today, we can see all kinds of people in the military—whether female, Asian-American, or African-American, the U. S. military now accepts those of all skin colors and backgrounds.

In 1945, World War II ended with the victory of the Allies. This could not have been achieved without the great contributions of women and African-Americans to the war effort on the home front. Also, as a result of Georgian minorities’ greater role in society, their civil freedoms began to increase. For the freedom we Georgians enjoy now, for the equality that people of all skin colors and genders we Georgians have now, we have the role of minorities during World War II to thank.