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VIRGINIA PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN WORLD WAR II: “ENEMIES WITHIN & WITHOUT”

Posted about 5 months ago by kathryn Coker
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Prisoners of War Arrive

During World War II, the U.S. was “home” to over 425,000 prisoners of war (POWs). They were Japanese, German and Italians from the Axis countries  captured by U.S forces and our allies in far off battlefields. Since there was no room in the rear to hold the rising number of POWs, they were sent in empty transport ships to America. Many arrived at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation.

Italian POWs Arriving at Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation

Transfer to Camps

After processing, the POWs typically were sent in “White Only” Pullman cars to camps across the home land, except for five states. Virginia had at least twenty-three POW camps which held some 17,000 prisoners. The POWs worked at various jobs, helping to relieve the labor shortage since most were fighting abroad for Democracy; Armed Forces women were serving in non-combat roles.

POWs Ride “White Only” Pullman Cars to Camps
A POW works as a machinist on a metal lathe in the machine shop of the Richmond Army Service Forces Depot.

Racial Inequities

It was not long until Black Americans discovered POWs were recognized as “whites” and had the social standing/freedoms they were denied. A POW could get a coke in a neighborhood store while a Black citizen could not. A young Black man, who could work in the cafeteria but not on the airplane assembly line, experienced the inequities. He wrote an editorial in the Black-owned, prominent Pittsburg Courier.  In SHOULD I SACRIFICE TO LIVE HALF AMERICAN? he asked several questions. One was Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? These questions along with his comments on the popular V for victory sign led to the Double V Democracy at Home-Abroad slogan embraced by many Black Americans, especially Black soldiers and sailors. Black Americans volunteered in record numbers for World War II.

Double V

Lunch and Learn

Please join the Richmond Public Law Library’s “Lunch and Learn” Zoom meeting at Noon on Monday June 14 as we discuss: Virginia POW Camps in World War II; “Enemies Within & Without”: A Virtual Discussion of Racial and Social Disparity between enemy prisoners of war and Black Americans with Dr. Kathryn Roe Coker, retired Department of the Army Historian and Richmond Public Library Associate. 

REGISTER: https://rvalibrary.libcal.com/event/7703063

See you there!

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