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  4. World War II as a Watershed in Race relations

World War II as a Watershed in Race relations

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 45-minute class period (For advanced students) or 2 45-minute class periods for standard-level courses
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
This lesson asks students to consider the war years as equally important in pushing for racial equality.

This lesson focuses on small-group document analysis to evaluate the impact of World War II on civil rights.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Explain how the double-V campaign shaped civil rights efforts and Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces
  • Analyze primary sources to form an argument
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Missouri Social Studies Learning Standards (9-12) 3a.I -- Analyze the evolution of American democracy, its ideas, institutions and political processes from Reconstruction to the present, including: struggle for civil rights
  • College Board AP US History outline:  WOR-4 Explain how the U.S. involvement in global conflicts in the 20th century set the stage for domestic social changes.
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed


Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • Photograph:  World War II soldiers with captured Nazi flag.  United States Army.
                Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. Accession Number: 72-3951


  • Letter:  James G. Thompson, to the African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier, January 1942. 


  • To Secure These Rights: Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, October 29, 1947
  • Letter:  James G. Thompson, to the African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier, January 1942.   



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? Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow? Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? Is the kind of America I know worth defending? Will America be a true and pure democracy after the war? Will Colored Americans suffer still the indignities that have been heaped upon them in the past? These and other questions need answering; I want to know, and I believe every colored American, who is thinking, wants to know...


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. If this V sign means that to those now engaged in this great conflict, then let we colored Americans adopt the double V V for a double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies from within. For surely those who perpetrate these ugly prejudices here are seeking to destroy our democratic form of government just as surely as the Axis forces.




  • Truman’s Address in San Francisco at the Closing Session of the United Nations
    Conference, June 26, 1945.  


Address in San Francisco at the Closing Session of the United Nations


June 26, 1945 

Mr. Chairman and Delegates to the United Nations Conference on International Organization:

I deeply regret that the press of circumstances when this Conference opened made it
impossible for me to be here to greet you in person. I have asked for the privilege of coming today,
to express on behalf of the people of the United States our thanks for what you have done here,
and to wish you Godspeed on your journeys home.

Somewhere in this broad country, every one of you can find some of our citizens who are sons and
daughters, or descendants in some degree, of your own native land. All our people are glad and
proud that this historic meeting and its accomplishments have taken place in our country. And that
includes the millions of loyal and patriotic Americans who stem from the countries not represented
at this Conference.

We are grateful to you for coming. We hope you have enjoyed your stay, and that you will come

You assembled in San Francisco nine weeks ago with the high hope and confidence of
peace-loving people the world over.

Their confidence in you has been justified.

Their hope for your success has been fulfilled.

The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed is a solid structure upon which we
can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final
victory in Japan, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself.

It was the hope of such a Charter that helped sustain the courage of stricken peoples through the
darkest days of the war. For it is a declaration of great faith by the nations of the earth--faith that
war is not inevitable, faith that peace can be maintained.

If we had had this Charter a few years ago-and above all, the will to use it--millions now dead
would be alive. If we should falter in the future in our will to use it, millions now living will surely

It has already been said by many that this is only a first step to a lasting peace. That is true. The
important thing is that all our thinking and all our actions be based on the realization that it is in fact
only a first step. Let us all have it firmly in mind that we start today from a good beginning and,
with our eye always on the final objective, let us march forward.

The Constitution of my own country came from a Convention which--like this one--was made up
of delegates with many different views. Like this Charter, our Constitution came from a free and
sometimes bitter exchange of conflicting opinions. When it was adopted, no one regarded it as a
perfect document. But it grew and developed and expanded. And upon it there was built a bigger,
a better, a more perfect union.

This Charter, like our own Constitution, will be expanded and improved as time goes on. No one
claims that it is now a final or a perfect instrument. It has not been poured into any fixed mold.
Changing world conditions will require readjustments--but they will be the readjustments of peace