Challenging Anti-History Education Laws: Teachers Receive 14,000 Books on African Americans During WWII

While right-wing legislatures restrict the teaching of Black history, we are pleased to support teachers who work to teach truthfully about U.S. history.

Thanks to a generous collaboration with Dartmouth College historian Matthew Delmont, the Zinn Education Project sent 14,000 copies of Delmont’s book Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad to public school teachers, school librarians, and teacher educators. This included 4,000 hardback copies in 2022 and 2023 — and 10,000 copies of the 2024 paperback edition.

Half American chronicles the lives of African Americans who fought in World War II and in the war against racism in the United States. The book includes stories that can be woven into the curriculum of key people and events, such as: Thurgood Marshall, the chief lawyer for the NAACP, who investigated and publicized violence against Black troops and veterans; Ella Baker, the civil rights leader who advocated on the home front for Black soldiers, veterans, and their families; James Thompson, the 26-year-old whose letter to a newspaper laying bare the hypocrisy of fighting fascism abroad when racism still reigned at home set in motion the Double Victory campaign; and poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a war correspondent for the Black press.

In a class with teachers, Delmont explained the relevance of learning this history.

If we look back and think that World War II was a simpler time, or a more peaceful or unified time, it makes it seem like protests around racial justice today are surprising, or that they’ve come out of thin air. If you tell the actual history about what happened in World War II, it’s clear that these battles have been going on for generations. Part of the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement in the last decade is that people’s grandparents were fighting these same battles in these same streets, going back to World War II and earlier.

Distribution of Delmont’s book is a direct challenge to the widespread removal of books from libraries and classrooms across the country.

In addition to the support of Delmont and Dartmouth College for the books and shipping, individual donors to the Zinn Education Project made possible the outreach, screening of requests, and follow-up story collection.

Teaching Stories

Teachers who received the hardback edition have shared their appreciation and teaching stories, including those below. We’ll add more once teachers use the new paperback edition. 

High school history teacher Amanda Sandoval was one of hundreds of educators who received copies of Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad from the author Matthew Delmont and the Zinn Education Project.

Delmont’s book asks readers to rethink what they know about the war by centering Black protagonists. He writes, “Nearly everything about the war — the start and end dates, geography, vital military roles, the home front, and international implications — looks different when viewed from the African American perspective.”

Sandoval had her students create blackout poems with the books’ introduction, making evident the power of the text.

Amanda Sandoval shared the slide instructions for the blackout poetry that she used for this activity.


Reading the book Half American has changed my perspective on teaching about World War II. I had always heard the traditional narrative of how the home front came together to support the war effort, but the stories told in the book showed me the myriad ways this was not true for African Americans. While I was aware of segregation and racism in the military at this time, and the response to returning veterans like Isaac Woodard, I hadn’t realized all the ways African Americans were discriminated against, particularly with regards to the violence shown towards them and the efforts to keep them from fighting in Europe and the Pacific.

—Courtney Bennis
High School Social Studies Teacher, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Students in my Jazz Seminar have been reading Matthew F. Delmont’s Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting in World War II at Home and Abroad to supplement our study of jazz during World War II. We also watched The Tuskegee Airmen and listened to music from the era. The combination of music, the film, and Delmont’s book has deepened students’ understanding of that time period. The students enjoy learning about topics of which they had very little prior knowledge.

I invited the students to lead Socratic seminars based on Chapter Four of Half American, with questions such as:

  • Why do you think Black soldiers were targets of racial violence if they were fighting for their country abroad? What does this treatment say about American ideals?
  • What was Thurgood Marshall’s role in helping Black soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Read the following quote about Charles Hamilton Houston (Thurgood Marshall’s mentor): “Houston made public statements that Black lawyers he trained at Howard would become social engineers rather than lawyers.” What do you take the term “social engineer” to mean? Was Houston’s term apt when describing his famous pupil, Thurgood Marshall? How so? (See page 68.)
  • Read the following quote: “It would be a pleasure soldiering for Uncle Sam if we were treated like humans.” Why did the government not protect Black soldiers who were training in the United States (i.e., Tuskegee, Alabama and Gurdon, Arkansas) or who fought abroad and returned to racial intimidation and violence (i.e., Isaac Woodard)?

This type of student-led learning prepares them for the community college courses they will take in their junior and senior years in high school.

The students will erect a three-dimensional bulletin board in the school hallway so that community members, parents, other students, and faculty members can learn from Half American as well. QR codes will provide access to audio files for people to hear what the students are taking from their book study.

—Cheryl Whitehead
High School Music and English Teacher, Siler City, North Carolina

I was able to add copies of Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad to my school library collection, and also use it with 11th grade English for poetry month, using a lesson I adapted from teacher Amanda Sandoval and featured on the Zinn Education Project website.

I started the lesson by having students reflect on what they knew about World War II. After seeing that none of the things they knew were stories and history featured in the book, I then shared a few key stories and highlights from what I learned reading Half American, including the integration during the Spanish Civil War, major acts of discrimination and segregation, and the story of the Port Chicago 50. Then I had 21 excerpts from the book that showed the contributions of, and challenges faced by, Black Americans during World War II and walked through how to create blackout poetry and highlighting the main ideas of the excerpts.

Students stayed engaged in creating their poems for the entire class period and made such beautiful and impactful works. In having students share back in small groups what they learned from each of their excerpts, almost every one of them had not heard about what they read and I taught them until that day, including the English teacher herself. (Check out the lesson, as well as pictures and blackout poems.)


—Molly Dettmann
High School Teacher Librarian, Norman, Oklahoma

I used Half American last year and this year in what I call “Café Day.” We have a student-staffed coffee shop in our school, so I have the kids grab a copy of the book and choose a “Big Topic” that they are interested in. From there, I’ve selected smaller chunks of the chapters into subtopics, and they pick one of the subtopics to read.

I then use a wonderful graphic organizer that Amanda Sandoval created for them to interact with the text and make detailed observations every two or three pages. They do these on sticky notes, which I provide. The next day, I have each “Big Picture Topic” group meet and discuss what they thought was the most powerful moment from their chapter. After they discuss in small groups, they share with the entire class.

I had several students express interest in reading more of the book, and a few took books home, too. More than once I heard kids in groups say, “I had no idea this happened” or “this was actually interesting!” Any time I can get high school kids engaged in reading, it’s a good day. Check out the slides I used for the activity. (Credit to the first slide goes to Amanda Sandoval.)

—Sara Ziemnik
High School Social Studies Teacher, Rocky River, Ohio

Delmont Books Blackout Poems

photo of Joelie McCrary

I received Matthew Delmont’s book, Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad, from the Zinn Education Project. I really enjoyed the book and wanted to share it with my students.

At the beginning of our unit on the WWII, I talked to the students about how the war, like many events in American history, impacted people in different ways and our goal was to see the war with new eyes through specific groups of people who lived it.

We started by watching an interview with Matthew Delmont about the purpose of his book and how he hoped to shed light on the vital role African Americans had in the war effort and their hope of a Double Victory. Then, at the beginning of each class period for the entire unit, we spent 15 minutes reading from the text. It was a really positive way to start and frame each class period.

We finished the unit with a culminating project that was inspired by a fellow history teacher, Amanda Sandoval. Students created blackout poems, which highlighted a major theme from the book. Each student chose one page from the book that would be the base of their poem. On that page, they selected words or phrases that supported the overall theme. Students covered the rest of the book page with an image that connected back the main idea. The only words remaining visible were those that created a new statement or poem about the African American experience in WWII.

I currently have pictures of the students’ final products on display in the hallway of our school for the rest of the student body to see and read.

—Joelie McCrary
High School Social Studies Teacher, Smithville, Missouri

These books have been invaluable to me and my students. In our 11th grade AP Language class it is a challenge year after year to find high interest non-fiction books. The options are always limited and it becomes increasingly hard each year to get students engaged in reading. However, my colleagues and I have made a great effort to include more diverse text offerings to our students. Having Half American available for my AP Language class was a game changer. Students loved the book, and were recommending it to one another. I used the text in class and gave students two options to choose what they wanted to read. The 12 students in the Half American group were able to engage in deep discussions on race, injustice, and how the text impacted them. It was remarkable, and I am so appreciative to have received the books.

—Alyson Catalon
High School Language Arts/English Teacher, Providence, Rhode Island

History club member Brice with his copy of the book.

Each member of our high school history club received a copy of Half American and we will use two or three in mini libraries that our club members are building for the community to promote reading and social studies literacy. In addition, a student in my history class used it as a resource for her own presentation on the Double-V campaign.

— Jon Grybos

High School U.S. History Teacher, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Read More Classroom Stories

The day my copy of Half American arrived, I taught a lesson on Black experiences in WWII. I teach one on one and the student was really engaged in the content, and especially interested in learning more about the fight for “Double Victory” and how Black soldiers were treated during the war. So, we pulled out the book and started flipping through it together.

Long story short, my student borrowed my copy and is now more than halfway through reading it! We check in on what they’ve learned at the start of every lesson, and I know I’m getting my book back worn in, annotated, and well loved. The student even asked about designing their own unit assessment based on connecting what they had learned in the book to what they had learned both about other experiences in WWII and also on the Black experiences in other time periods we’ve studied.

For a book to truly engage one of my students, especially one that has historically not cared about history or reading, is a true marvel to me.

—Ari Zastrow
High School Social Studies Teacher, Columbia, Maryland

We received copies of Matthew Delmont’s Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad and are beginning our social studies department reading group around this book. It has been a great resource so far presenting perspectives that are often overlooked in the larger narrative about WWII. It has been influential in thinking about the resources we choose to put in front of students.

The introduction brought up an interesting point when discussing Saving Private Ryan. The opening scene of that movie is commonly used throughout history classes that discuss D-Day and World War II, but the intro brings up an interesting point and makes us reconsider the resources we use and who is centered and who is left out.

As we continue our discussions around this topic we will strengthen our content knowledge around the topic of World War II and more specifically United States and African American involvement in World War II. This book will be a valuable resource in our unit on World War II which is covered in 10th and 11th grade. It will also be helpful when thinking about the resources we choose for other topics to try and think about which stories we leave out.

—Michael Klukojc
High School Social Studies Teacher, Waterloo, New York

Three years ago I joined a Teaching for Black Lives study group and have been using the Stories from the Climate Crisis: A Mixer lesson and Reconstructing the South: A Role Play ever since. The lessons are engaging and have my students consider perspectives that they would not usually be exposed to. I was even able to take the Climate Change Mixer and use it to create similar assignments for other subjects or lessons that the students liked. In my experience, the Zinn Education Project encourages students to think and problem solve based on their own ability to reason. These valuable skills can carry beyond the classroom and help make for responsible citizens out in the world.

Furthermore, students have enjoyed reading Sugar, Half Americanand Paradise on Fire. These stories add visibility and diversity to the classroom — something that is often hard to come by and hard to afford as a public education teacher. Anything and everything that the Zinn Education Project shares with a classroom is a vital component of that class going forward.

—Colten Fox
High School Social Studies Teacher, Washougal, Washington

During my unit on World War II, my students read excerpts from Half American on the Tuskegee Airmen’s experiences with discrimination while fighting in the war. They then answered questions and discussed with partners in class.

It was an excellent way to incorporate the contributions of minorities to the war effort in an authentic way that showcased both their accomplishments and the prejudice that they felt. Discussion of minorities in the war is a specific standard for Michigan but this resource allows educators to more holistically showcase the lives of Black Americans in the war. My students were moved by these excerpts and I believe it helped them further understand the paradoxical nature of the United States’ participation in World War II.

—Hayley Stevenson
High School History Teacher, Corunna, Michigan

In my U.S. History class I teach a lesson about the African American experience in WWII using primary sources. Students read the James Thompson editorial “Should I Sacrifice to Live Half American?” from the Pittsburg Courier and the Double V campaign. Students later consider Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military, and write their own editorial like James Thompson about racial equality in America and in the military.

The book Half American has sparked many ideas to add depth and empathy to this lesson. Additionally, the book was fascinating and engaging to read, and I really appreciate the Zinn Education Project for providing this book to me for free to add to my personal and professional library.

This lesson always sparks very good conversation about what it means to be an American and the important and unique struggle for rights minority groups like Black Americans have led. This lesson gets students to see part of the story of the long Civil Rights Movement that began well before the sit-ins and bus boycotts.

In conjunction with this lesson, I also teach one about the Japanese-American experience in WWII that adds complexity to students’ understanding of rights and freedoms in wartime and how minorities face unique challenges and experiences. All told, this book has added so much to my ability to teach a richer and more complete U.S. stories.

—Alex Powell
High School Social Studies Teacher, West Haven, Utah

I first attempted to do a book study the week before Thanksgiving (short week), but the students complained the book was too long; though they did like the subject matter. So, I decided to focus on chapters 7, 3, 5, and 12 during Black History Month. It produced some amazing discussions.

Many of the students, of all races, were angry that the military didn’t allow the Black soldiers to handle weapons, and felt they were “slaves to the White soldiers” by doing their laundry, shining their shoes. They also said our government was two-faced: Talking about soldiers working together against the common enemy but having segregated quarters for the Black and white soldiers.

Before giving them their written assignment, I showed them a clip from Pearl Harbor, where Cuba Gooding Jr., portraying Doris Miller, proceeds to use the gun to fight the Japanese pilots. They were angry that the government took four months to identify and give Miller a medal for being a hero, when white soldiers received recognition right away. I later showed them that the Navy christened a frigate in Miller’s name, an honor only given to former presidents.

Since we are a secured facility (juvenile detention), I printed research for the following people: Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Doris Miller, James G. Thompson, Benjamin O. Davis, Della Raney, Private Robert Brooks, Charles McGee, Wallace P. Reed, Ella Baker, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the “Black Rosies.” They wrote an essay about one of the people: List three (or more) facts about the person, explain how his/her character enabled him/her to rise above the adversity of their community, and justify how their actions made an impact on U.S. history. Once written, they then had to present the person they researched, and in their presentation, explain why their chosen person was a hero. Almost every student stated that the fact they stood to honor and protect a country that didn’t treat them right made them heroes.

Many of the students asked why they never heard of some of these people during WWII. Many were shocked that “Black Rosies” were doing the same things as Rosie the Riveter. I will definitely present this unit again.

A student asked if he could take the book to his room to read, but there’s a policy against having hard covered books on the living units. I went to a supervisor, showed her the book and explained what I was doing, and she was impressed. She took down the information, and she said she’d look into ordering soft covered copies to put on each unit.

—Wilma Rice
High School Language Arts/English Teacher, Phoenix, Arizona

I received multiple copies of Matthew Delmont’s book Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad. I teach a variety of classes, grades, and extracurriculars, so I knew I could incorporate this text in many ways.

One way I used this text was to have students read excerpts from Chapter 3, “The March on Washington,” as part of a unit about community organizing and advocating for the changes you believe are needed in your community. I paired it with the lesson on Zinn Education Project website around the various stakeholders in the DAPL debate, and a culminating assignment asking students brainstorm, write, gather support, edit, and send proposals to their school board regarding improvements they wanted to see in their own education.

In particular, a quote from pg. 62 of Delmont’s book was useful, and I returned to it many times:

For Randolph and millions of other Black Americans, the lesson from the March on Washington Movement was that ordinary Black citizens possessed a tremendous amount of political potential. The key was to harness it to fight for specific goals. “You possess power, great power,” Randolph said. “In this period of power politics, nothing counts but pressure, more pressure, and still more pressure.”

Thanks for sending these texts to me. I appreciate it!

—Steph Schares
Middle School Extended Learning Teacher, Ames, Iowa

Half American by Matthew F. Delmont has completely changed the way I teach World War II and the Civil Rights Movement in my 12th grade government class. Typical textbook curriculum teaches the Civil Right Movement as an isolated event; however, Delmont’s book taught me that the movement’s roots are with injustices and hypocrisies during World War II. Students are shocked to read the quotes from articles written by the African American newspapers that show a completely different perspective of the war (abroad and domestically) than that described in textbooks.

After reading this book, I will always teach the WWII Double V campaign in order to include these voices. A part of the book that particularly affected me was the treatment of Black troops on U.S. military bases. I was stunned by the soldier’s letter to the NAACP from Pearl Harbor prior to the attack about the treatment of Black sailors by the Navy. Again, it’s an example of how a textbook completely leaves out voices that are vital in understanding events.

—Tasha Stevens Garcia
High School Social Studies Teacher, Roseburg, Oregon

I recently used Matthew Delmont’s book Half American to challenge students’ perceptions about World War II. Students read the introduction and completed blackout poems. Afterwards, small groups of students were assigned a specific chapter of the book to read, discover claims made, and see how the author used evidence to support these claims.

Students were tasked with a creative way to demonstrate their learning and could choose between the following: Creating an African-American “heroes” gallery; creating a movie trailer for the chapter using WeVideo or another platform; creating an infographic to demonstrate learning by numbers; creating a digital collage; or curating a collection of additional primary and secondary sources based on original research, or a student generated idea. I was very pleased with the student engagement and the creativity used to demonstrate learning.

Delmont’s book is an incredible resource for the classroom that challenges students’ perspectives about World War II. Delmont recenters African Americans in the narrative of the war to show what it really meant for African Americans from a variety of walks of life. I highly recommend teachers consider this exquisite resource. My students encountered people and ideas that they had never heard of, and leveraged technology and creativity to produce resources that not only demonstrate but advance learning.

—Keith Long
High School Social Studies Teacher, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

This was a great read and resource on an issue that continues to be glossed over in textbooks and available curriculum. I really appreciated how thorough things were explained and how they were in chronological order. I learned a great deal to help me with my instruction around WWII and the Civil Rights Movement.

Some of the concepts filled in gaps for my content understanding. I liked the beginning chapters that connected the Harlem Renaissance and Black WWI fighters to the revolution in Spain and the rise of fascism. This was something I had no knowledge of previously. The quotes that reinforced the comparison between Nazi Germany and Jim Crow drew such a parallel that really exposes how racism was running our country in the 1930s and 1940s (and beyond). The scope of Jim Crow as it applied to industry and the military were really exposed in this reading.

I pulled many quotes to use in my classroom. The book ends by looking at the Civil Rights Movement, and I appreciated how the author included many activists, such as Ella Baker and Rosa Parks, to show their efforts started during WWII. Overall, a great read and resource on a complex issue that has been hidden from mainstream education.

—Lindsey Bollis
High School Social Studies Teacher, Williamston, Michigan

Our school district has banned books on the Black experience. So, we did a Zoom session with veterans and their grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and shared from the Half American’s specific parts that spoke to them or that they experienced in real life. We had conversations so that all could learn from the book and from actual life experiences of the adult to middle/high school participants.

Some of the high schoolers were considering going into the service and felt enlightened about the racism that persisted and the determination of the veterans in the story, as well as the determination of their relatives who shared that they too lived during this time period. It was a living history lesson on both levels, via the book and via accounts shared by veteran relatives.

The challenge going forward is to think of ways to persist under hardship or crisis and find ways to reinvent the self under these conditions with dignity and honor. The students were to make a dream board of a story chosen from the book, use them as a mentor for their future, and pick pictures and words or quotes that would continue to inspire them.

—Teresa Rollins
Middle and High School History Teacher Educator, Levittown, Pennsylvania

I ask my students to read a book about walking in someone else’s shoes. We discuss the issues of under-represented views and stories all year long in literature and social studies. Social studies culminates with a unit on major reformers throughout history and how they changed things.

Here is what two of my students said about Half American.

I thought it was very interesting that I had no idea about all this. I have learned about WWII several times, and have heard nothing about this. It was very interesting to read and I like the perspective. I think it is really important to learn about this.—Agatha

I thought it was interesting in the book Half American that it was Black Americans who identified the threat from fascism long before much of the rest of the nation did, and who were among the first to see the war as an existential struggle between forces of fascism against the forces of freedom, democracy, and human rights. —Makenzie

—Rachael Van Fleet
Middle School Literature and Social Studies Teacher, Corvallis, Oregon

Although I was given a copy of Half American, I was not allowed to utilize it in my classroom. As a teacher who prides themselves on inclusive teaching, I was instructed at least three times this school year to ensure I am teaching about and praising white people in my class. My administrator is constantly worried about white students in my class, even though I am white myself. I am super thankful for the Zinn Education Project sending me a copy of this amazing book but in Oregon we are not permitted to truly teach about BIPOC people in our classes.

— Anonymous
High School Teacher, Oregon

In my African American history class we read and had discussion responses to excerpts from chapters 14 and 17. These chapters really underscored the important role African Americans played in the War and the terrible betrayal they received when they returned. This activity was the culminating activity of our lesson on African Americans in the first half of the 20th century.

—Joshua Toth
High School Social Studies Teacher, Falls Church, Virginia

Learn More

Listen to an interview with historian Matt Delmont in conversation with ZEP team member Jesse Hagopian in our Teach the Black Freedom Struggle online class. Excerpt below and the full class here.

1 comments on “Challenging Anti-History Education Laws: Teachers Receive 14,000 Books on African Americans During WWII

  1. Rubina Jan on

    Greetings from Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wisconsin. Half American is one of the most powerful and poignant books about history and the challenges and adversity faced by African Americans to ensure the promise of democracy since the inception of the nation to the present. For our Black History Month program, we will use a video about the book, with a Q & A. The second part of the program will be a presentation by Retired Major General Marcia Anderson about the history of African Americans and Military Service. Our librarian and I are working to see if we might be able to feature the book for a discussion group. I will offer use of the discussion group as credit for community engagement.

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