Victory at Home
Manpower and Race in the American South during World War II

Charles D. Chamberlain

A new look at World War II's transforming influence on the South


"Chamberlain's work opens a window on a chaotic, explosive South, a region in which wartime labor shortages reshuffled the population and placed unprecedented strains on the social and economic workings of Jim Crow segregation. The research is deep, the information fresh, and the writing clear. By focusing on one critical issue—labor power for wartime production—Chamberlain's work sheds new light on the complex dynamics of the southern (and national) economy of the 1940s."
—Douglas Flamming

"An important account of the impact of World War II on southern African American workers. Chamberlain describes how they used the economic opportunities the war provided to press their own demands for political and economic justice, and how the wartime experiences of black labor shaped the postwar civil rights struggle."
—Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, author of The American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta, 1900–1950

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Victory at Home is at once an institutional history of the federal War Manpower Commission and a social history of the southern labor force within the commission's province. Charles D. Chamberlain explores how southern working families used America's rapid wartime industrialization and an expanded federal presence to gain unprecedented economic, social, and geographic mobility in the chronically poor region.

Chamberlain looks at how war workers, black leaders, white southern elites, liberal New Dealers, nonsouthern industrialists, and others used and shaped the federal war mobilization effort to fill their own needs. He shows, for instance, how African American, Latino, and white laborers worked variously through churches, labor unions, federal agencies, the NAACP, and the Urban League, using a wide variety of strategies from union organizing and direct action protest to job shopping and migration. Throughout, Chamberlain is careful not to portray the southern wartime labor scene in monolithic terms. He discusses, for instance, conflicts between racial groups within labor unions and shortfalls between the War Manpower Commission's national directives and their local implementation.

An important new work in southern economic and industrial history, Victory at Home also has implications for the prehistory of both the civil rights revolution and the massive resistance movement of the 1960s. As Chamberlain makes clear, African American workers used the coalition of unions, churches, and civil rights organizations built up during the war to challenge segregation and disenfranchisement in the postwar South.

Page count: 312 pp.
16 b&w photos, 3 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Charles D. Chamberlain is the museum historian at the Louisiana State Museum and an adjunct professor of history at Tulane University.