African American Involvement in WWII

This project-based lesson engages students with primary sources (posters, photos, and manuscript documents) to analyze and evaluate the involvement of African Americans in World War II. 

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Evaluate how an author incorporates evidence and reasoning to support the argument and specific claims in a text.
Analyze and evaluate a variety of thematically-related texts of historical and literary significance for their topics, facts, purposes, and rhetorical...
Determine multiple central ideas of a text or texts and analyze their development; provide a critical summary.
Analyze how an author's choices regarding the ordering of ideas and events, the introduction and development of ideas, and connections among ideas...
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, utilizing ongoing feedback, including new...
Identify the roles and sacrifices of individual American soldiers, as well as the unique contributions of special fighting forces such as the Tuskegee Airmen, the 442nd...
Examine the impact of World War II on economic and social conditions for African Americans, including the Fair Employment Practices Committee, the service of African...
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • Identify a role that African Americans filled in World War II and discuss how the role offered new opportunities and/or reflected racial attitudes of 1930s and 1940s.
  • Examine efforts by activists and organizations to promote change and evaluate effectiveness of Executive Orders to change policies for labor and military.
  • Cite specific textual evidence (posters, photos, and/or manuscripts) to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from multiple texts.
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • How did the involvement of African Americans in World War II reflect racial attitudes and segregation?
  • How did the role of African Americans in the war impact social and economic conditions for African Americans during and after World War II?
  • How did labor programs and Executive Orders affect opportunities for African Americans? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Student GoogleDocs or PowerPoints can be linked to school website to be shared with school community. A student or teacher panel can vote on their favorite museum room.
  • Virtual Museum can also be a flipped classroom activity. Students can use Venn Diagram graphic organizer to  compare/contrast perspectives of two different African Americans from different branches of service or home front jobs. 

Helpful Hints

Oral Histories

  • Violet Hill Askins Gordon
  • Oneida Miller Stuart
  • Roscoe Tyson Spann
  • Robert P. Madison

Prints and Photographs:

  • Dorie Miller
  • Tuskegee Airmen
  • Rosie Pictures: Select Images Relating to American Women Workers During World War II
  • Tuskagee Airman
  • African American Nurses
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • Members of an artillery unit…break
  • Photographs and Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination


  • Eleanor Roosevelt letter lobbying against
  • lynching
  • A. Phillip Randolph March on Washington
  • President Truman Executive Order 9981
  • FDR Executive Order 8802 Prohibition of
  • Discrimination in the Defense Industry
  • Mary McLeod Bethune speech “What Does
  • American Democracy Mean to Me?” (American Public Media website)
  • Bolton Act: Making the Nursing Profession
  • More Accessible to Everyone (Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing)


  • Primary Source Analysis Tool, interactive
  • Analyzing Primary Sources
  • Analyzing Photographs and Prints
  • Analyzing Oral Histories
  • Virtual Museum Template