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Fighting discrimination in defense industries

Despite federal investment for industrial plants in the Old South, millions of blacks left the land of their former enslavement to take new manufacturing jobs in the North and in California.

Cotton-picking was over as an occupation in the South after the invention of machines to do the work. Within a generation, a majority of Southern blacks gave up their rural homes and gravitated toward the city. This migration was so large that it rivaled the influx of immigrants at the beginning of the 1900s.

Under pressure from the nation's only black union, the Roosevelt administration forbade discrimination in defense industries. This was the first time black workers had been given a fair shake in major industries, and they responded by going to work in record numbers.

Minorities in the armed forces

The American record on discrimination was not that good in the armed forces. Blacks fought in segregated units, often in service rather than combat jobs; however, they did have a limited but proud record as fighter pilots, soldiers, and sailors. In 1948, three years after the end of the war, the armed forces became the first major institution in the United States to be officially desegregated.

More than 25,000 American Indians served in the armed forces during World War II. In both Europe and the Pacific, they made special contributions as code talkers who relayed radio messages in Indian languages that enemy troops couldn't understand. After the war, American Indians migrated from reservations to cities in record numbers.

Hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans served in the armed forces, making up around 3 percent of the army. Although they faced discrimination in housing, education, and even veterans services after the war, they fought back through legal organizations.

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Mexican American school children had to attend so-called Mexican schools in California. In 1947, the Mendez v. Westminster court ruling declared that segregating children of "Mexican and Latin descent" in the state of California was unconstitutional. This ruling helped lay the foundation for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case that ended official racial segregation for all minorities in the United States public school system.

U.S. recovery from the Depression

The United States gross domestic product (GDP), the value of its output of goods and services, doubled during World War II. Although the Depression had hit the U.S. harder than most countries, America recovered strongly during the war. People were working decent jobs and had money to spend; average pay by the end of the war was almost twice as much as it was at the beginning.

As the only industrialized nation not being bombed, the U.S. out-produced the rest of the world. Millions of people were either in the armed forces or employed by defense industries supported by federal contracts. The federal Office of Scientific Research and Development (1941) spent billions of dollars on university research and technical innovation, including the top secret Manhattan Project (1941) to develop the atomic bomb.

This flood of war spending, not the modest streams of help from New Deal programs, was what finally brought a complete end to the Great Depression. The war cost more than the total of every penny the government had ever spent since the American Revolution. As terrible as it was, World War II lifted up the United States both as an international power and as the world's richest economy. The same Roosevelt Democratic administration that started the New Deal in the face of the Depression ran America during World War II.

The optimistic can-do attitude the United States gained from its trials in war and the Depression buoyed the nation for the rest of the century.

Example

Question: What was the economic condition of the U.S. home front during World War II?

Answer: The U.S. home front economy completely recovered from the Great Depression and boomed during World War II.

 
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