Nora Cole’s world-premiere play Katherine’s Colored Lieutenant is based on letters written between her Uncle Robert, a WWII Tuskegee Airman, and his fiancée, Nora’s Aunt Katherine. Because this personal story is set during a pivotal period of our nation’s history, it also incorporates other texts and voices of the time, to help re-create Katherine’s and Robert’s world on stage.
One of the historical documents that makes an appearance in the play is a letter to the editor from James G. Thompson, published January 31, 1942 in the Pittsburgh Courier, which illustrated the dilemma facing black Americans. During World War, millions of African Americans joined the fight against racism and oppression across Europe and Asia – even as their own nation, so committed to freedom abroad, still perpetuated segregation and discrimination at home. Mr. Thompson’s letter inspired the nation-wide Double V Campaign, which supported the war effort while also pushing for racial equality, including equal employment opportunity, the desegregation of the military and an end to discriminatory voting regulations. There isn’t time for more than a short quote in the play, but we wanted to share the complete text here:
Like all true Americans, my greatest desire at this time, this crucial point of our history, is a desire for a complete victory over the forces of evil, which threaten our existence today. Behind that desire is also a desire to serve, this, my country, in the most advantageous way. Most of our leaders are suggesting that we sacrifice every other ambition to the paramount one, victory. With this I agree; but I also wonder if another victory could not be achieved at the same time.
After all, the things that beset the world now are basically the same things which upset the equilibrium of nations internally, states, counties, cities, homes and even the individual.
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 this 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.
This may be the wrong time to broach such subjects, but haven’t all good things obtained by men been secured through sacrifice during just such times of strife?
I suggest that while we keep defense and victory in the forefront that we don’t loose sight of our fight for true democracy at home.
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 colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double victory; The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory over our enemies 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.
This should not and would not lessen our efforts to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion; but should and would make us stronger to resist these evil forces which threaten us. America could become united as never before and become truly the home of democracy.
In way of an answer to the foregoing questions in a preceding paragraph, I might say that there is no doubt that this country is worth defending; things will be different for the next generation; colored Americans will come into their own, and America will eventually become the true democracy it was designed to be. These things will become a reality in time; but not through any relaxation of the efforts to secure them.
In conclusion let me say that though these questions often permeate my mind, I love America and am willing to die for the America I know will someday become a reality.
JAMES G. THOMPSON.
Katherine’s Colored Lieutenant is currently running on the Fielding Nextstage, through Sunday, February 22.