During World War II, journalist Trezzvant Anderson undertook a significant mission to fill the void in recognizing the contributions of segregated Black troops, who were often relegated to support roles and ignored by the U.S. Army’s public relations campaign. He embedded with the groundbreaking 761st Tank Battalion, the Army’s first Black tank squad to see combat, documenting their pivotal role in the war effort.
One of a few African American army correspondents stationed in Europe during the war, Anderson contributed articles to influential Black newspapers such as the Baltimore Afro-American, the Chicago Defender, and the Pittsburgh Courier. Not only a journalist but also a dedicated civil rights activist, he used his platform to advocate for more active combat roles for Black soldiers and the integration of the U.S. armed forces. Anderson focused his efforts on the 761st, nicknamed the “Black Panthers,” with the broader objective of demonstrating the patriotism, courage, and sacrifices of Black soldiers, emphasizing the necessity of granting them full rights at home.
Anderson’s dispatches covered significant events in the 761st’s history, including their pivotal role in repelling a German counteroffensive during the Battle of the Bulge and their breakthrough of the “Siegfried line,” enabling General George Patton’s troops to enter Germany. He offered a vivid account of combat from within armored vehicles, describing the perilous conditions faced by the tank crews.
In 1945, Anderson authored a book titled “Come Out Fighting: The Epic Tale of the 761st Tank, 1942-1945,” showcasing the achievements of Black soldiers. This book was not only a testament to their valor but also a platform to convey their contributions to politicians who opposed racial equality. Anderson’s work underscored the vital role of the Black press as a tool for activism.
Prior to the war, Anderson was already a pioneering journalist and civil rights advocate. During the Great Depression, he investigated labor discrimination against African Americans and reported on political activities, social conditions, and lynchings across the South. His relentless reporting on corrupt and racist practices in the civil service played a crucial role in the conviction of a prominent official and pressured President Franklin Roosevelt into desegregating government and national defense jobs in 1941.
Anderson’s commitment to documenting racism was perilous in the South, where he sometimes wrote under a pseudonym to avoid potential violence. After campaigning for increased Black employment in the civil service and wartime defense industries, he extended his advocacy to the U.S. Army, enlisting in 1943. He sought an official role for the Black press in the war effort, facing resistance and censorship from white military personnel opposed to involving Black journalists in the Army’s public relations initiatives and reporting on the experiences of Black soldiers in the segregated U.S. forces.
The Black newspapers Anderson wrote for were a powerful means of reaching African Americans throughout much of the 20th century. These newspapers played a crucial role in shaping attitudes on racism and inequality in America. At the outset of World War II, as some Black citizens questioned their commitment to a nation that denied them civil rights, Black newspapers emphasized the link between victory over fascism abroad and the struggle against racism at home. These newspapers faced continuous threats, with the FBI seeking to indict them for sedition and the U.S. Postal Service considering banning the mailing of Black newspapers during the war. However, the Justice Department cited First Amendment protections to thwart these efforts.
In late 1944, amid escalating racial tensions in the military, the War Department established an all-Black public relations unit responsible for gathering news for the Black press in Europe. When white officers objected to the appointment of a Black leader for this unit, Anderson unofficially took on the role himself, determined to continue delivering stories that resonated with Black readers.
Facing strict military censorship that omitted any reference to racism or second-class treatment, Anderson used his articles to advocate for Black soldiers. He argued that Black soldiers would experience greater pride and motivation if allowed to fight and employ their initiative without racial hindrances. He also advocated for integrated fighting units, emphasizing that cooperation between races was crucial for victory against the Nazis.
The 761st, as the first all-Black tank battalion in combat, was closely monitored by military leaders, the press, and the American public, particularly African Americans seeking to demonstrate their contributions to the war effort. General George S. Patton, the leader of the Third Army, initially expressed doubts but later acknowledged the unit’s impressive performance and activated more Black combat units.
Through his dispatches, Anderson portrayed the soldiers as capable and courageous, not as stereotypes often depicted in mainstream media of that era. His work played a pivotal role in highlighting the valor and sacrifices of Black soldiers during World War II.