Date of Award

8-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

History

Major Professor

Cynthia G. Fleming

Committee Members

Ernest F. Freeberg, G. Kurt Piehler

Abstract

This essay will examine black veterans who returned to Knoxville, Tennessee after both world wars. Knoxville was a moderately sized Southern town that believed itself to be fairly progressive about racial issues. The life of average Knoxvillians was perennially disrupted in this period by two wars, two returns, and the racial tension that occasionally exploded into violence. This essay will attempt to show that the experience of Knoxville’s African American veterans was different after WWII from what it was in WWI because of the changing sympathies of the federal government, rather than because of changes within the African American community. In many ways, African Americans responded to both world wars with striking similarity: high expectations that the war would bring change, audible complaints at the hypocrisy of discrimination at home while fighting it abroad, and much disappointment in the aftermath. The federal government changed drastically, however, in its treatment of veterans, with the GI Bill, and of black soldiers, with the integration of the military. It was the combination of theses two important changes in federal policy that served as an impetus for social change. Knoxville serves as a case study within these larger historical trends.

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