Power of the Black Press
WASHINGTON - It started with a Jan. 31, 1942, letter to the Pittsburgh Courier.
Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: Should I sacrifice my life to live half American? … Is the kind of America I know worth defending? … Will Colored Americans suffer still the indignities that have been heaped upon them in the past? … The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries which are fighting for victory over aggression, slavery, and tyranny. … Let we colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies from within.
The writer, James G. Thompson, a cafeteria worker from Wichita, Kan., expressed the sentiments of most black Americans during World War II. For years, black publishers had been pointing out racial injustices. Lynching was common. Job discrimination was widespread. Blacks weren't accepted in some branches of the military. African-American blood donations were banned or segregated.
Taking Thompson's lead, the Courier launched the Double V campaign on Feb. 7, 1942. It featured without fanfare the symbol - two V's with an eagle perched atop a crest - on its front page. Readers responded immediately with letters of support.
Soon, black newspapers around the country joined the campaign. They stepped up their attacks by pointing out instances of discrimination in the military. Circulations soared.
The Double V was everywhere: on flags and lapels, in songs. Double V clubs were formed. Women styled their hair into Double V's. The campaign was so popular that government agencies - including the FBI and the U.S. Post Office - investigated black publishers for wartime sedition, citing low black morale. But the campaign continued.
Black newspapers steadily pleaded their cause. The Courier began placing two V's at the end of all war stories until 1945. At war's end, papers replaced the symbol with a single V. Victory abroad had been won. Government pressure diminished. The single V lasted until 1946.
The Double V campaign was a shining example of the power of the black press - a press that today remains one of the most respected institutions in the black community.