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11-08-2015, 16:45


Consider some of the rapid, far-reaching effects that came from transforming the American economy to produce the goods needed for a modem war. Two groups, for example, previously on the fringes of the workforce— women and African Americans—now found unprecedented opportunities open to them. Some women who had not been employed before 1917 now took jobs, but a far larger group took new and better-paying positions. In all, 1.5 million women took jobs in industries connected to the war effort. In addition, countless numbers of women supported the war by staffing and organizing relief agencies, selling war bonds, and promoting patriotism in school and at work. In a war that moved toward "total mobilization," women further helped the cause by conserving food at home. As an editorial in Life magazine during the war reminded mothers, everyone in the household could contribute to American victory: "Do not permit your child to take a bite or two from an apple and throw the rest away; nowadays, even children must be taught to be patriotic to the core." For African Americans, the change was more sweeping still. Employers' long-standing preference for native white or immigrant workers had to be put aside in a country in which millions went into the military and in a world in which emigration from Europe had halted. As the number ofjobs in factories expanded, African-American men were permitted, even encouraged, to obtain them. Since most members of this minority group lived in the rural South at the start of the war, economic opportunity meant geographic exodus. Approximately 400,000 blacks went north to the major industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest; 60,000 migrated to Chicago alone. Black newspapers, such as the Chicago Defender, reported on employment opportunities, and northern black churches sent letters to southern congregations inviting their members north to find jobs and share fellowship. Prospective employers and railroads recruited blacks and channeled their movement northward. The immediate reception for blacks was sometimes hostile as white Americans reacted angrily to a black presence. Starting in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917, then spreading to Chicago in 1918, race riots erupted across the urban North. An ever growing roster of fatalities marred the country's domestic peace and reminded blacks that leaving Jim Crow in the South did not mean finding peace and freedom in the North.