Skip to main content

 [Negro soldiers encountered not only the foreign enemy, but also] the discriminatory practices of the American Armed Forces in World War II.  The Navy continued its practice of automatically assigning Negroes to menial duties as stewards, cooks, and launderers.  The Army Air Force, only with the greatest reluctance, agreed to train Negroes as pilots and navigators, yet it rejected fully qualified applicants for officer candidate school and would not admit Negro officers into specialty programs.   The experience of the Negro trainees and cadets atTuskegee (Alabama) was especially demoralizing.  Negro and Caucasian teaching officers were separated in eating, sleeping, and toilet facilities, and trained Negro officers were not allowed to take over administrative responsibilities at the base, as they had been promised in an agreement to be overseen by a civilian aide hired to ease Negro-white military tensions early in the war.  The ultimate indignity was that Negroes were not permitted to police themselves in Tuskegee, that responsibility being assigned to members of the Alabama State Police Force.

This is the background of prejudices and practices against which Brooks's first sonnet series must be read.


Williams, Gladys Margaret.  "Gwendolyn Brooks's Way with the Sonnet."  CLA Journal 26 (1982): 215-40.