Minority Groups in World War II

Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11496

Minorities are often targets of discrimination, mistreatment, and marginalization. In WW II, minorities were literally targets, but contributed greatly! Read about these great heroes and their impact!

categories

United States, World

subject
History
learning style
Visual
personality style
Lion
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Imagine this scenario: A young boy growing up in the United States was forbidden to speak his native language. As the boy matured to young adulthood, he paid service to his country in the U.S. Marine Corps. While in the military, he was commanded to use the same language he was once forbidden to speak.

Think about what you know about the minority groups of WWII. To which group do you think this boy belonged, and why? What language would have been an asset to the U.S. military?

Discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher.

  • Do they have the same guesses as you?

The young man referenced above is Chester Nez, a World War II Navajo Code Talker. He enlisted in the Marines.

Before continuing, if you skipped or need to review the previous Related Lessons in the US and WWII lessons, you will find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Using Native American languages to send coded messages was not new; the Cherokee and Choctaw languages were used for the same purpose during World War I. As one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, Chester Nez helped develop a code that the Japanese could not break, and that success led the Marine Corps to establish a code-talking school.

Situated within Camp Pendelton in California, it was known simply as, "The Navajo School." Native Americans from various tribes attended this school, either because they enlisted or were drafted. Their creation and use of code based on the Navajo language was top secret, and it was not until 1968 that the military declassified the Navajo Code Talkers program.

Men and women of all backgrounds contributed to the war effort, both on the home front and the battlefields. As you learn more about these minority groups and their roles in WWII, focus on the following questions:

  • Who are the members of the group?
  • How did they come to be members of this group?
  • What contributions did members or specific individuals of the group make to the war effort?
  • What are some notable achievements of this group and its members?

Begin by discovering more about the Navajo code talkers. Check out the National Museum of the American Indian section on "Code Talking | INTELLIGENCE AND BRAVERY" (National Museum of the American Indian). Refer back to the bulleted list of questions and discuss with your parent or teacher which of them you can now answer. Chester Nez, the Marine, died in 2014 at the age of 93. He was the last surviving member of the original group of 29 Navajo code talkers. Read Cable News Network's interview with him, "Decoding history: A World War II Navajo Code Talker in his own words" (Stephanie Siek, CNN).

Another minority group who offered major contributions in World War II was the African American fighter squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen. At a time when the military was still segregated, this group of men became highly decorated. As you continue to think about the questions posed above, watch the History video, Tuskegee Airmen (© A&E Networks, LLC), and consider what, if anything, this particular group had to gain by their sacrifice. When you have finished with the information on the History site, move on to The National Museum of the US Air Force. Browse the links on the Tuskegee Airmen page for more specific details.

Women were also considered a minority group because minority groups are defined as those who hold less social power. Read A History of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (National WASP WWII Museum Inc.) for a brief overview of how some women helped the war effort. Then, read Susan Stamberg's article, Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls, courtesy of NPR, to learn more about the challenges these women faced during and after World War II.

Take some time to process this information and discuss the questions and what you have learned about these groups of people and how they contributed to the war effort.

Move on to the Got It? section to compare and contrast the accomplishments and treatment of these minority groups during World War II.

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