Numerous articles and opinion pieces published in major African American newspapers during the 1920s and 1930s give evidence of the "deep-seated anti-interventionist sentiment" that prevailed among African Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.1
Their skepticism was shared by a larger American anti-interventionist movement that advocated against the United States' involvement in another European conflict—a war which believed would lead to senseless mass carnage and "ultimately jeopardize liberty and democracy at home."2 Nevertheless, some African American public intellectuals held out hope that, if war did come, it would cause the collapse of the Allied powers' colonial empires, bringing freedom and self-determination for non-white peoples across the globe.3
One of the most outspoken opponents of intervention was aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. In 1927, African American newspapers had lionized Lindbergh and praised his historic trans-Atlantic solo flight. The Baltimore Afro-American, for instance, called it a "marvelous exploit" and extolled not only the technological achievement, but the "spiritual factors which produced the MAN."4 For many, Lindbergh became an emblem of American ingenuity, progress, and audacity.
Over the following decade, Lindbergh grew increasingly associated with pro-German, antisemitic, eugenicist, and isolationist politics, and his opposition to Franklin Roosevelt and his administration became more outspoken. On September 11, 1941, he delivered a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, to a gathering of supporters of the anti-interventionist America First Committee.5 Lindbergh described what he saw as "an over-increasing effort" to force the United States into the European conflict. Lindbergh blamed three groups for "pressing this country toward war … the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration," as well as capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals...." He added to their number "Communistic groups" to these "major war agitators."
The speech, which was broadcast across the nation and thoroughly covered in the press,6 provoked criticism from Jewish and pro-democracy groups for what was seen as Lindbergh's antisemitism and his support for fascism. His racialist interpretation of the war also outraged many African Americans. Many grew more skeptical of the national hero, as this man-on-the-street feature from the Philadelphia Tribune illustrates. Still, the spectrum of opinions presented here—both critical and deferential to Lindbergh—speaks to the diversity of views within African American communities on the contentious events and personalities of the war years.