Publication Black Out
When Private E.L. Reynolds arrived for duty at Camp Howze, it may not have been very long before he wanted a newspaper to read. He may have asked to borrow one from a fellow soldier or perhaps visited a service club or post exchange to see what they had available. He likely would have found copies of the latest issues of local publications like the Denton Record-Chronicle, the Gainesville Daily Register, and certainly the Camp Howze Howitzer. He might have also found newspapers from around the country as Camp Howze tried to keep its soldiers connected to life back in their hometowns. But at some point during his time there, he learned that one of the nation's leading Black newspapers was banned from the camp. His 1944 letter addressed to Truman K. Gibson, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War and legal advocate for Black soldiers, indicated he and others at Camp Howze were recently informed of the ban and "quite a controversy has aroused considerable confusion," which prompted him to request from Mr. Gibson the "official War Department regulation on the distribution of Negro publications on military post for use in Day Room's [sic] and Service Club." Mr. Gibson responded by assuring Pvt. Reynolds, there was no authorized ban of any publication at any military post and cited the "confidential War Department letter" of November 1943 that prevented that "type of action." He then urged Pvt. Reynolds to "be certain" of his facts and "write back immediately" with all the details.
Whether Private Reynolds ever followed through with that instruction from Mr. Gibson or found a solution on his own is unknown, but the "controversy" of banning popular reading material published by Black Americans for Black Americans was understandable. The limitations of second-class citizenship imposed by the Jim Crow South and enforced by the military increasingly isolated Black service members who had already left behind the world that welcomed them to serve their country. Without access to Black publications, like the Pittsburgh Courier, news of their world and the life they fought to improve was inaccessible. As reading just one issue of any local publication would have made clear, there was only one vision of life represented locally, and it did not include the lives of Black Americans.
Two years before Private Reynolds alleged that Camp Howze banned the Pittsburgh Courier, another Black American wrote a letter asking for answers. This time, the question was posed to the newspaper, or more accurately, to its readers. James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old aircraft manufacturer employee, who was restricted to working in the cafeteria because he was Black, wondered whether his sacrifices and those of all Black Americans involved in the war effort would actually lead to what they were told to fight for -- freedom from oppression. He, like others, listened to and read the polished rhetoric of society's leaders as they touted America's democratic idealism despite its hypocrisy. Like others, especially other Black Americans, he wondered whether victory in this Second World War could be their victory too. From that time forward, the Pittsburgh Courier used its voice to encourage support for Thompson's suggested two-front war against oppression; one overseas, the other at home. With the Double VV campaign well underway by 1944, when Private Reynolds was told he couldn't get access to the Pittsburgh Courier at Camp Howze, the question to ask was why, and the answer might have seemed obvious to him as it did to most, if not all, Americans at that time.
Just a handful of photographs with Black soldiers were printed in the Camp Howze Howitzer, including a few of the famous boxer Joe Louis (Staff Sergeant Joe Louis Barrow) when he visited the camp. Whenever announcements were made regarding the Black soldiers, they specifically noted "Negroes" or "Colored" soldiers. Perhaps some funny anecdotes were shared by Private Reynolds' unit members as each week's edition typically covered at least two pages with stories from the men at Camp Howze. Still, there was no frequent mention of "Colored" or "Negro" service members, civilian workers, or volunteers in the camp's paper.
More than 100 issues of the Camp Howze Howitzer would have been printed by the time Pvt. Reynolds wrote his letter to Mr. Gibson on August 13, 1944. Many more news publications from the surrounding area existed. He would have had easy access to the news of the day if he wanted to read about the war, the units stationed at Camp Howze, the civilian workers and volunteers from nearby Gainesville and Denton, and the other neighboring towns. Private Reynolds might have enjoyed a comic strip for some laughs, or he may have wanted to learn about the recreational options at the camp or in the surrounding town. The USO and various Army units regularly provided entertainment for the soldiers and advertised their upcoming events each week. Sports teams raved about their wins and swore to avenge their losses. Private Reynolds might have been interested in joining a team or two or just showing up to support some of the other Black soldiers he would have worked and trained with each day. There were many options for entertainment and ways to stay informed if he wanted to know what life would be like if he had been considered "white."
As for local newspapers, when they mentioned Black Americans during the years Camp Howze existed, it was usually to report a crime allegedly committed by Black citizens or punishments doled out for those alleged crimes. Again, Private Reynolds would have found very little news about Black Americans in any context outside of crime statistics or help wanted ads. To see the news from their perspective was to ensure Private Reynolds could only see their perception of life. Like the Camp Howze Howitzer, the local newspapers available in the region provided a very skewed and racist vision that kept Black Americans on the outside without any connection to the world they knew and envisioned for themselves.