Study Guide

World War II: Home Front People

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office. Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.

    Just days after the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt spoke to the American people, preparing them for a nationwide mobilization effort for war abroad. 

    FDR declared to the nation that "more money than has ever been spent by any nation at any time in the long history of the world" would have to be spent "to build the factories, to buy the materials, to pay the labor, to provide the transportation, to equip and feed and house the soldiers, sailors and marines, to do all the thousands of things necessary in a war."

  • Joe Louis

    Joe Louis (1914–1981), an African-American boxer also known as the "Brown Bomber," defeated German boxer Max Schmeling in 1938, defending his world heavyweight title and, for many Black and white Americans, earning a major victory for the United States in a clash of civilizations. During the war, Louis joined the army where he served in an all-Black Jim Crow regiment.

    In June 1938, German boxer Max Schmeling traveled to New York to face his rival, African-American boxer Joe Louis. In their pre-fight coverage, American reporters cast Schmeling as a Nazi villain (despite the fact that Schmeling had never officially pledged his support for the Nazi regime). Louis knocked Schmeling out before a crowd of 70,000, signaling for many Americans the first great blow to the Hitler regime.

  • Max Schmeling

    Max Schmeling (1905–2005) was a German boxer who, in 1936, fought and defeated African-American boxer Joe Louis, an up-and-coming talent. He faced Louis a second time in 1938, this time fighting for the world heavyweight title. His loss symbolized for many Americans a great and deserved victory over Germany and its Nazi ideals.

    In June 1938, Schmeling traveled to New York to face his rival, African-America boxer Joe Louis. In their pre-fight coverage, American reporters cast Schmeling as a Nazi villain (despite the fact that Schmeling had never officially pledged his support for the Nazi regime). Louis knocked Schmeling out before a crowd of 70,000, signaling for many Americans the first great blow to the Hitler regime.

  • Norman Rockwell

    Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) was an American artist, best known for his popular paintings of American life that appeared in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post.

    In May 1943, the cover of the Saturday Evening Post featured artist Norman Rockwell's painting of a muscular "Rosie" clad in a blue workshirt and denim coveralls, a riveter in her lap and a welder's face mask atop her head. The image remains to this day one of the most familiar representations of women war workers commonly referred to as "Rosie the Riveters."

  • A. Philip Randolph

    A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) was the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union who, in 1941, proposed a March on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the expanding war industries and the military.

    In 1941, Randolph planned to organize some 100,000 African Americans to march in Washington, D.C. "for jobs in national defense and equal integration in the fighting forces." Ultimately, he canceled the march when President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to end discrimination in war employment.

  • Bayard Rustin

    Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an early advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington.

    During World War II, Bayard Rustin, along with labor organizer A. Philip Randolph, proposed a March on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the expanding war industries and the military. The planned march successfully pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to push through some crucial reforms.

  • John L. DeWitt

    John L. DeWitt (1880–1962) was an American military commander who is commonly remembered for the role he played in the internment of some 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

    On May 2nd, 1942, General John L. DeWitt issued orders to create Military Areas Number 1 and Number 2 in portions of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona for the internment of Japanese Americans. In the wake of Japan's surprise attack against the American naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, DeWitt deemed all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast to be a security risk and ordered their imprisonment as a vital war measure. 

    The U.S. government would officially apologize for the unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans in 1988, attributing the wartime policy to "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

  • Gunnar Myrdal

    Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) was a Swedish social scientist, who in 1944, published An American Dilemma, a book encapsulating a five-year study sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation.

    Gunnar Myrdal's study, An American Dilemma, utilized scholarly studies, statistics, and hundreds of interviews with Black people in order to describe almost every major facet of early 20th-century Black life. The book thereby highlighted the profound conflict between American racial policies and the American belief in freedom and justice for all. Myrdal predicted that World War II would ultimately become the catalyst for change. In many ways he was right.

  • Harry S. Truman

    Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) became the 33rd President of the United States upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945. Truman, who had only a high-school education and had been vice president for just 82 days before FDR's sudden death, inherited the monumental task of leading the United States through the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War

    Truman—who was, while in office, one of the least popular presidents in modern American history—won a surprising second term by defeating Republican Thomas Dewey in the election of 1948. Many historians today rate Truman's performance much more positively than did his constituents at the time.

    Truman served as President of the United States and, therefore, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States during the final months of World War II. Under his command, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs—the first to be used in warfare—on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, effectively ending the war. For many Americans, Truman's legacy as the nation's leader centers on these controversial decisions.