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 His published and unpublished writings offer a fascinating glimpse into a segregated world on the eve of historic change.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 Times
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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.