This project explores how African Americans continued the quest for civil rights during WWII. In order to do so, however, one must acknowledge that black spokespersons responded to competing discourses--particularly, the discourses of U.S. officials such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In an era where propaganda pervaded the public sphere, the sheer force of the white majority in the U.S. was politically and socially overwhelming. Thus, non-dominant groups, such as African Americans, were forced to react from a restricted discursive space. In this regard, my analysis cuts two-fold. First, I examine how President Roosevelt galvanized support for his "Four Freedoms" agenda by appealing to collective values. In appealing to collective values, Roosevelt placed a high demand on patriotism and unity. Roosevelt's emphasis on collective values and national unity conveyed a homogenous sense of American identity which, in turn, discouraged public expression of minority and/or dissenting viewpoints. Second, I investigate how African American rhetors employed the principles of "The Four Freedoms" to formulate critiques of institutional racism. In particular, Ralph Ellison's wartime editorials explicitly engaged "The Four Freedoms." Ellison illustrated how, by tolerating oppressive systems, such as racism, colonialism, and imperialism, the U.S. and Allied forces actually undermined the ideals of "The Four Freedoms." Using the ideographic method, I contend Ellison's reinvention served to problematize "The Four Freedoms" in a way which highlighted the prejudices which afflicted African Americans and colonial peoples throughout the world.


Daniel Cronn-Mills

Committee Member

James Dimock

Committee Member

Anne O'Meara

Committee Member

Christopher Brown

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Arts and Humanities

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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