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!


United States, World

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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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 speak the same language he was once forbidden.

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?
  • Did you guess the answers?

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

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 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 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.

Navajo Code Talkers Marine Corps Cpl. Henry Bake, Jr. and Pfc. George H. Kirk used a portable radio near enemy lines to communicate with fellow Marines in December 1943.

Check out Native Words, Native Warriors. Click on GET STARTED to explore. Then, refer back to the bulleted list of questions.

  • Which of them can you now answer?

Chester Nez, the Marine, died in 2014 at 93. He was the last surviving member of the original group of 29 Navajo code talkers. Hear his story with Decoding history: A World War II Navajo Code Talker in his own words.

Another minority group who offered major contributions to 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.

original members of the Tuskegee Airmen

As you continue to think about the questions posed above, visit Tuskegee Airmen and consider what, if anything, this particular group had to gain by their sacrifice.

Next, explore to learn details about specific Tuskegee Airmen by following the links on that site.

Women were also considered a minority group because minority groups are defined as those with less social power. For a brief overview of how some women helped the war effort, read Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Then, read Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls to learn more about the challenges these women faced during and after World War II.

Mrs. Betty H. Gillies was the first woman pilot to be flight-checked and accepted by the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.

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

Then, move 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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