1942 December 4

Challenge to Segregated WW II Draft Rejected

 

Winfred Lynn, an African-American landscape gardener on Long Island, New York, challenged the racially segregated draft in World War II. Lynn’s challenge cited the 1940 Selective Service Act, which included a racial non-discrimination clause. Although rarely mentioned by historians, the clause in the Selective Service Act was arguably the first federal civil rights law of the twentieth century. (On September 27, 1940, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph confronted President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House about his failure to implement the non-discrimination clause of the law, but without success.)

The NAACP refused to take Lynn’s case, regarding it as too controversial in the midst of wartime. Arthur Garfield Hays, general counsel for the ACLU, agreed to handle the case. The Federal District Court in Brooklyn on this day denied Lynn’s writ of habeas corpus and dismissed the case. On February 3, 1944 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, upheld the lower court decision.

The Lynn Defense Committee changed its name after the war and continued to challenge the segregated military. Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph returned to the White House on March 22, 1948 and confronted President Harry Truman about the segregated military and promised that if the draft was reinstated he would advise young African-American men not to register. Four months later, President Truman finally ordered the U.S. Armed Forces desegregated with Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948.

Read an obituary of Winfred Lynn: http://www.itkowitz.com/mam1965text.php?aid=251

Learn about the ACLU’s role in the case: https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/aclu-history-soldiers-story

Learn more at a timeline on African Americans in the U.S. Army:  http://www.army.mil/africanamericans/timeline.html

Read about segregation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina:
http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-worldwar/6072

Learn about President Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces in 1948: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/index.php

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