The forgotten story of Black soldiers and the Red Ball Express during World War II

The forgotten story of Black soldiers and the Red Ball Express during World War II

Shown here in May 1945.These black soldiers were attached to the 666th Quartermaster Truck Company that was part of the Red Ball Express. National Archives
Matthew Delmont, Dartmouth College

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a problem. In June 1944, Allied forces had landed on Normandy Beach in France and were moving east toward Nazi Germany at a clip of sometimes 75 miles (121 kilometers) per day.

With most of the French rail system in ruins, the Allies had to find a way to transport supplies to the advancing soldiers.

“Our spearheads … were moving swiftly,” Eisenhower later recalled. “The supply service had to catch these with loaded trucks. Every mile doubled the difficulty because the supply truck had always to make a two-way run to the beaches and back, in order to deliver another load to the marching troops.”

The solution to this logistics problem was the creation of the Red Ball Express, a massive fleet of nearly 6,000 2½-ton General Motors cargo trucks. The term Red Ball came from a railway tradition whereby railmen marked priority cars with a red dot.

From August through November 1944, 23,000 American truck drivers and cargo loaders – 70% of whom were Black – moved more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, gasoline, medical supplies and rations to battlefronts in France, Belgium and Germany.

These Red Ball Express trucks and the Black men who drove and loaded them made the U.S. Army the most mobile and mechanized force in the war.

Black soldiers are seen filling up gasoline tanks for dozens of trucks used to transport military supplies.
In this October 1944 photograph, Black soldiers are filling up gasoline tanks for the Red Ball Express. AFP via Getty Images

They also demonstrated what military planners have long understood – logistics shape what is possible on the fields of battle.

That’s a point well known in today’s war in Ukraine: As the Russian invasion stretches into its second month, logistics have been an important factor.

Supplying the front lines

The Red Ball Express gave the Allies a strategic advantage over the German infantry divisions, which were overly reliant on rail, wagon trains and horses to move troops and supplies.

A typical German division during the same period had nearly 10 times as many horses as motor vehicles and ran on oats just as much as oil. This limited the range of the vaunted Blitzkrieg, or lightning attacks, because German tanks and motorized units could not move far ahead of their infantry divisions and supplies.

Driving day and night, the Red Ball truckers earned a reputation as tireless and fearless troops. They steered their loud, rough-driving trucks down pitch-black country roads and through narrow lanes in French towns. They drove fast and adopted the French phrase “tout de suite” – immediately, right now – as their motto.

Gen. George C. Patton “wanted us to eat, sleep, and drive, but mostly drive,” one trucker recalled.

A convoy of trucks carrying military supplies is seen on a narrow road.
A convoy of U.S. trucks heads toward the front lines loaded with military supplies from the Belgian port of Antwerp in spring 1945. Photo12/UIG/Getty Images

James Rookard, a 19-year-old truck driver from Maple Heights, Ohio, saw trucks get blown up and feared for his life.

“There were dead bodies and dead horses on the highways after bombs dropped,” he said. “I was scared, but I did my job, hoping for the best. Being young and about 4,000 miles away from home, anybody would be scared.”

Patton concluded that “the 2½ truck is our most valuable weapon,” and Col. John D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander’s son, argued that without the Red Ball truck drivers, “the advance across France could not have been made.”

Fighting Nazis and racism

The Red Ball Express was a microcosm of the larger Black American experience during World War II. Prompted by the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential Black newspaper at the time, Black Americans rallied behind the Double V campaign during the war, which aimed to secure victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home.

Many soldiers saw their service as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of their race.

The Army assigned Black troops almost exclusively to service and supply roles, because military leaders believed they lacked the intelligence, courage and skill needed to fight in combat units.

Despite the racism they encountered during training and deployment, Black troops served bravely in every theater of World War II. Many saw patriotism and a willingness to fight as two characteristics by which manhood and citizenship were defined.

A Black solider stands near a sign that says Red Ball Highway.
In this Sept. 5, 1944, photograph, Cpl. Charles H. Johnson of the 783rd Military Police Battalion waves on a Red Ball Express convoy near Alenon, France. National Archives

The boundaries between combat roles and service roles also blurred in war zones. Black truck drivers often had to fight their way through enemy pockets and sometimes required armored escorts to get valuable cargo to the front.

Many of the white American soldiers who relied on supplies delivered by the Red Ball Express recognized the drivers’ valor at the time.

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An armored division commander credited the Red Ball drivers with allowing tankers to refuel and rearm while fighting. The Black drivers “delivered gas under constant fire,” he said. “Damned if I’d want their job. They have what it takes.”

A 5th Armored Division tank driver said, “If it wasn’t for the Red Ball we couldn’t have moved. They all were Black drivers and they delivered in the heat of combat. We’d be in our tanks praying for them to come up.”

Logistics in Ukraine

Days into the war, Ukraine’s armed forces destroyed all railway links between Ukraine and Russia to thwart the transport of Russian military equipment and tanks.

Relying on trucks and road networks, Russian convoys encountered fuel shortages and counterattacks from Ukrainian military and civilians.

Dozens of trucks with Russian military supplies are seen on a highway.
A convoy of Russian military vehicles moves toward the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2022. Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Russian military’s ability to move supplies across extended distances – as well as Ukraine’s ability to disrupt those supply lines – is pivotal in determining the future direction of the war.The Conversation

Matthew Delmont, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History, Dartmouth College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Nigerian women greet each other at St. Charles Catholic Church in Ngurore, Nigeria, on Feb. 17, 2019. AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
Gina Zurlo, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

At the start of 2019, Bill and Melinda Gates released a list of facts that had surprised them the previous year. Number four on their list: “Data can be sexist.”

“There are huge gaps in the global data about women and girls,” they explained.

My interest was piqued – not only as a demographer, but as a woman and mother of girls.

I research women in global Christianity and am frequently asked what percentage of the religion is female. The short answer is 52%. But the long answer is more complicated – women make up a much more substantial part of Christianity than that number makes it seem.

The goal of my research is to put the spotlight on Christian women’s contributions to church and society and fill in gaps in our data. Headlines about religion may be focused on the words and actions of Western male leaders, but the reality of the worldwide church is quite different. More and more Christians live outside Europe and North America, especially in Africa – and women are central to that story.

Measuring faith

Social scientists have shown for decades that women are more religious than men by a variety of measures – everything from frequency of private prayer to worship service attendance. Christianity, the world’s largest religion, is no exception. Data from the Pew Research Center show that, compared to Christian men, Christian women are more likely to attend weekly church services (53% versus 46%), pray daily (61% versus 51%), and say religion is important in their lives (68% versus 61%).

It’s not a new trend. In the Gospels, women were the last at the foot of Jesus’s cross, the first at his tomb. Research has shown they were critical to the growth of the early church, being more likely to convert to Christianity than men, and most of the early Christian communities were majority female. Throughout history, women were exemplars of the faith as mystics and martyrs, royal women converting their husbands and supporting convents, and founders of denominations and churches that are now all over the world. Women make up the majority of Christians today.

What researchers don’t have is comprehensive data on women’s activities in churches, their influence, their leadership or their service. Nor are there comprehensive analyses of Christians’ attitudes around the world about women’s and men’s roles in churches.

“Women, according to an old saying in the Black church, are the backbone of the church,” notes religion and gender scholar Ann Braude. “The double meaning of this saying is that while the churches would collapse without women, their place is in the background,” behind male leaders.

But there’s not much actual data, and without good data, it’s harder to make good decisions.

Two women wearing head coverings pray inside a church.
Christian women pray during a Christmas Mass in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2021. AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

At the center of the story

My current research is illustrating that women are the majority of the church nearly everywhere in the world, and that its future is poised to be shaped by African women, in particular.

Christianity continues its demographic shift to the global south. In 1900, 18% of the world’s Christians lived in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania, according to my research. Today that figure is 67%, and by 2050, it is projected to be 77%. Africa is home to 27% of the world’s Christians, the largest share in the world, and by 2050, that figure will likely be 39%. For comparison, the United States and Canada were home to just 11% of all Christians in the world in 2020 and will likely drop to 8% by 2050. Furthermore, the median age of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is just 19.

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One of the most common refrains about the church in Africa is that it is majority female. “The church in Africa has a feminine face and owes much of its tremendous growth to the agency of women,” writes Kenyan theologian Philomena Mwaura.

Or as a Nigerian Anglican bishop recently told me, “If anyone tells you a church in Nigeria is majority male, he’s lying.”

It’s clear that women have been a crucial part of Christianity’s seismic shift south. For example, consider Catholic sisters, who outnumber priests and religious brothers in Africa – and on every continent, in fact. Mothers’ Union, an Anglican nonprofit that aims to support marriages and families, has 30 branches in Africa, including at least 60,000 members in Nigeria alone. In Congo, women have advocated for peacebuilding, including through groups like the National Federation of Protestant Women. Next door, in the Republic of the Congo, Catholic sisters were at the forefront of providing shelter, education and aid in postwar recovery efforts.

Yet here, too, more precise data about African women’s contributions and religious identities is lacking. And beyond quantitative data, African women’s narratives have often been ignored, to the detriment of public understanding. As African theologians Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Rachel Angogo Kanyoro have stated, “African women theologians have come to realize that as long as men and foreign researchers remain the authorities on culture, rituals, and religion, African women will continue to be spoken of as if they were dead.”

Far from dead, African women live at the center of the story – and will continue to do so as healers, evangelists, mothers and the heartbeat of their churches.

The Conversation

Gina Zurlo, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SLAIN HAITIAN PRESIDENT FACED CALLS FOR RESIGNATION, SUSTAINED MASS PROTESTS BEFORE KILLING

SLAIN HAITIAN PRESIDENT FACED CALLS FOR RESIGNATION, SUSTAINED MASS PROTESTS BEFORE KILLING

Presidential guards patrol the entrance to the residence of late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021. Moïse was assassinated there early that morning. AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn
Tamanisha John, Florida International University

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in the early morning hours of July 7, 2021, in a brazen attack on his private home outside Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Moïse’s wife was also shot in the assault that killed her husband. The assailants have not been identified, and Haiti’s prime minister reports he is running the country.

Moïse’s assassination ended a four-and-a-half-year presidency that plunged the already troubled nation deeper into crisis.

A political novice

Jovenel Moïse, 53, was born in 1968, meaning that he grew up under the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Like most Haitians today, he lived through turbulent times – not only dictators but also coups and widespread violence, including political assassinations.

Moïse, a businessman turned president, made his way into politics using political connections that stemmed from the business world. Initially he invested in automobile-related businesses, primarily in the north of Haiti, where he was born. Eventually, he ultimately landed in the agricultural sector – a big piece of the economy in Haiti, where many people farm.

Valerie Baeriswyl / AFP via Getty Images
The late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in November 2019. Jovenel at a podium with men sitting behind him

In 2014, Moïse’s agricultural finance company Agritrans launched an organic banana plantation, in part with state loans. Its creation displaced hundreds of peasant farmers, who received minimal compensation.

But the business brought Moïse prominence. It was as a famed banana exporter that Moïse met then-Haitian President Michel Martelly in 2014. Though he had no political experience, Moïse became Martelly’s hand-picked successor in Haiti’s next election.

Martelly was deeply unpopular by the end of his term, but party leaders assumed that Moïse would be more welcomed given his relatable background in farming.

A divisive and unstable presidency

Instead, Moïse barely eked out a win in a November 2016 election that fewer than 12% of Haitians voted in. His meager electoral victory came after two years of delayed votes and confirmed electoral fraud by Martelly’s government.

In 2017, Moïse’s first year in office, the Haitian Senate issued a report accusing him of embezzling at least US$700,000 of public money from an infrastructure development fund called PetroCaribe to his banana business.

Protesters flooded into the streets crying “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a?” – “where is the PetroCaribe money?”

Protests signs seen laying on the ground, saying 'Jovenel must go' in English and Creole
Protest signs in Port-au-Prince in March 2021 before a protest to denounce Moïse’s efforts to stay in office past his term. Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty Images

Lacking the trust of the Haitian people, Moïse relied on hard power to remain in office.

He created a kind of police state in Haiti, reviving the national army two decades after it was disbanded and creating a domestic intelligence agency with surveillance powers.

Since early last year, Moïse had been ruling by decree. He effectively shuttered the Haitian legislature by refusing to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2020 and summarily dismissed all of the country’s elected mayors in July 2020, when their terms expired.

Sustained protests – over gas shortages and blackouts, fiscal austerity that has caused rapid inflation and deteriorating living conditions, and gang attacks that have killed several hundred, among other issues – were a hallmark of Moïse’s tenure.

Existing street protests exploded in early 2021 after Moïse refused to hold a presidential election and step down when his four-year term ended in Feburary. Instead, he claimed his term would end one year later, in February 2022, because Haiti’s 2016 election was postponed.

Before his death, Moïse planned to change the Haitian Constitution to strengthen the powers of the presidency and prolong his administration.

Memories of a dictatorship

For months before his assassination, Haitian protesters had been demanding Moïse’s resignation.

For many Haitians, Moïse’s undemocratic power grabs recall the 30-year, U.S.-backed dictatorships of François Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc,” and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Black-and-white image of François Duvalier, in a suit, and his wife, in a dress, surrounded by watchful men
François Duvalier with bodyguards and his wife, Simone, after they voted in Haiti’s 1957 presidential election, in which Duvalier was a leading candidate. AFP via Getty Images

Both Papa Doc and Baby Doc relied on murdering and brutalizing Haitians to remain in power, with the unspoken approval of Western political interests in Haiti. Working with the Duvaliers, U.S. manufacturers in Haiti ensured that their investments were profitable by pushing for wages to remain low and working conditions to remain poor.

When mounting Haitian protests ended the regime in 1986, Baby Doc fled the country. The Duvaliers had enriched themselves, but Haiti was left in economic collapse and social ruin.

The 1987 Haitian Constitution that Moïse sought to change was written soon after to ensure that Haiti would never slide back into dictatorship.

Beyond Moïse’s use of state violence to suppress opposition, anti-Moïse protesters before his killing pointed out another similarity with the Duvalier era: the United States’ support.

In March, the U.S. State Department announced that it supported Moïse’s decision to remain in office until 2022, to give the crisis-stricken country time to “elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions.”

That stance – which echoes that of Western-dominated international organizations that hold substantial sway in Haiti, such as the Organization of American States – sustained what was left of Moïse’s legitimacy to remain president.

Crowd in the street under smoky skies hold up a sign with U.S., Canadian and other foreign flags
Protesters in Port-au-Prince in 2019 highlight the role of foreign governments in supporting President Jovenel Moïse, who was accused of corruption. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Haitians unhappy with continued American support for their embattled president held numerous demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, while Haitian Americans in the U.S. protested outside the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

From its invasion and military occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 to its support of the Duvalier regime, the U.S. has played a major role in destabilizing Haiti.

Ever since the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010, international organizations like the United Nations and nonprofits like the American Red Cross have also had an outsize presence in the country.

Now, the unpopular president that foreign powers supported in hopes of achieving some measure of political stability in Haiti has been killed.

This story is a substantially updated and expanded version of an article, originally published on May 10, 2021.The Conversation

Tamanisha John, Ph.D. Candidate of International Relations, Florida International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.