“Triple V” and the Struggle for Racial Justice: Intimate Encounters between Indigenous Australian Women and American Servicemen on the World War II Homefront

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
Karen Hughes, Swinburne University of Technology
Stationed at General MacArthur’s Australian headquarters in Brisbane, the famous black American war correspondent Vincent Tubbs reported in the Baltimore Afro-American, on March 14, 1944, that: “ I know of 10 cases in which our boys have married Australian girls. In eight instances the girls are of mixed blood. In the other two, they are so called ‘pure Australian girls’,” adding, “ They have real concern as to how they will get their wives home on one of Uncle Sam’s ships.” Tubbs reportage accurately points to the significance of marriage, intimacy and the family as a key site of political struggle. More than 1 million US troops, including 9,000 segregated African Americans, were stationed in Australia between 1941 and 1947 during WWII’ s Pacific Theatre: and on the Australian home front Indigenous women and African American servicemen were often drawn together in the face of shared yet distinct experiences of prejudice and marginalisation under settler-colonialism, identified as part of the 'Triple V' campaign. The war momentarily overshadowed some of the concerns of controlling Aboriginal peoples, and indeed an array of intimate relations were formed that crossed the entrenched racial boundaries established by the White Australia Policy and the US Jim Crow laws, and would soon be tested by immigration resrictions around skin colour and race. Using a number of case studies and drawing on the oral histories and lived experiences of the protagonists, I examine the legacies of those wartime relationships within the broader context of trans-colonial race-based injustice, social rupture and the struggles for civil and human rights in the post-war period.
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