Roi Ottley's World War II
The Lost Diary of an African American Journalist
Mark A. Huddle, ed.
When black journalist Vincent "Roi" Ottley was assigned to cover the European theater in World War II, he provided a perspective shared by few other war correspondents. But what he really saw has taken more than sixty years to come to light.
Already famous as the author of New World A-Coming—in which he decried the hypocrisy of America fighting for freedom in Europe while denying it to blacks at home—Ottley was sent to cover the experiences of African American soldiers that neither white journalists nor the American military felt obliged to report. But while his dispatches documented this assignment, his personal diary reveals a different war—one that included mess hall brawls between Southern white soldiers and their black counterparts, the British public's ignorance toward their own black soldiers, and other subtle glimpses of wartime life that never made it into print.
“Journalist Roi Ottley (1906–60), already known as author of New World A-Coming (1943) on African American life in the 1920s and 1930s, was commissioned as a lieutenant in World War II to serve as a war correspondent in Europe. His published and unpublished writings offer a fascinating glimpse into a segregated world on the eve of historic change. . . . Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“On almost every page of this book, Ottley’s sensitivity to, and insights into, comparative racial attitudes are on display. This by itself makes the book a unique and extraordinarily valuable testament as well as a hardheaded, clear-eyed and intuitive look into a past that is thankfully no longer with us.”
—Washington TimesSee all reviews...
“Ottley, once one of the nation’s most famous black correspondents, is today largely forgotten. His work offers a window on what it was like for black journalists traveling with the armed forces and trying to cover racial inequities under the strictures of censorship and prejudice.”
“An illuminating portrait of a forgotten black writer.”
—National Catholic Reporter
“The breadth of Ottley’s subject matter opens a new window onto the Civil Rights movement as an international issue rather than just an American one, while bringing to light new information about race relations. Huddle’s effort fully succeeds in his stated goal of reintroducing Roi Ottley as an important voice of the Civil Rights movement while helping extend the parameters of this vital part of American history from its generally accepted origins in the 1950s and 1960s to the interwar period and World War II.”
“Ottley may have provided the closest approximation of Ernie Pyle for the Negro soldier of World War II.”
“An interesting read. . . . the book is a behind-the-scenes look into Ottley’s story ideas, interviews, personal thoughts about the war, American allies, and how people of color would be affected by the decisions made by whites, both American and European. . . . A good book for historians of this time period to have on their shelves. It provides much needed behind-the-scenes observations from a correspondent who travelled outside the normal circles.”
“An interesting read. Ottley’s journal entries provide a behind-the-scenes look into his story ideas, interviews, and personal thoughts about the war, American allies, and how people of color would be affected by the decisions made by whites, both American and European.”
“If you think you know the American experience of World War II, just try looking at the European theater through the eyes of African American war correspondent Roi Ottley. I found fascinating new stuff on page after page.”
—James Tobin, author of Ernie Pyle’s War
“Ottley’s lively and original writings provide a vivid and heartfelt portrait of African American soldiers as they struggled to bring democracy to Europe and America during the World War II era. . . . An important contribution to our understanding of African American history and American race relations”
—Albert S. Broussard, author of African-American Odyssey: The Stewarts, 1853–1963See fewer reviews...
That journal remained buried in a collection of Ottley's papers at St. Bonaventure University until Mark Huddle discovered it in the school's archives. With this book, he offers us a new look at World War II as he brings a forgotten figure out of history's shadow.
While Ottley may have had an agenda in his published articles of proving the worth of black soldiers, his diary is rich in personal reflections-from his fears while enduring a bombing raid in London to his true feelings about fellow reporters to his encounters with celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Edward R. Murrow. And at every turn Ottley kept a keen eye on race issues, revealing a highly political as well as entertaining writer while reflecting a growing awareness that the African American freedom movement was part of a larger international struggle by peoples of color against Western imperialism.
Huddle's introduction frames Ottley's career and contributions, and his annotations throughout the book provide additional context to the reporter's experiences. Huddle also includes thirteen of Ottley's published dispatches to demonstrate the differences between his personal musings and his professional output.
The publication of this lost diary restores the reputation of a trailblazing figure, showing that Roi Ottley was both a brilliant writer and one of America's keenest observers of race issues. It offers all readers interested in race relations or World War II a more nuanced picture of life during that conflict from a perspective rarely encountered.