The Kennesaw State University Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books (MARB) presents exhibitions, public programs, collections, and educational services supporting KSU’s mission and encouraging dialogue about the past and its significance today. This online unit is part of a series of units designed for university students to explore pivotal moments in history through a diverse selection of source materials.
Based on the Museum of History and Holocaust Education's permanent exhibition Georgia Goes to War this module takes a regional and thematic approach to telling the story of the impact of World War II on Georgia. Interspersed with six sections where you will encounter "before," "during," and "after" stories about the effects of the war on the state, you will be invited to view oral history interviews from the MHHE's Legacy Series oral history project, dig into the collections of the KSU Archives, and explore rare books from the collection of the Bentley Rare Book Museum. Throughout, you will be asked to consider research questions and engage in critical thinking.
World War II transformed the state of Georgia and its people. In joining the war effort, Georgians embraced a struggle that united the nation economically, socially, and to a great extent, politically. Yet, change was experienced differently by different people and places across the state. As you explore this module, keep this essential question in mind:
- How did World War II change the state, the nation, and the world?
Wartime Industry Changes Cobb County
- When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933, he promised a "New Deal" for America. Cobb County was largely land-rich and cash-poor, and many of its residents were enthusiastic about the potential for federal dollars pouring into the region. Decades of frugal fiscal policy had stifled broad economic growth, just as cotton had overtaxed the land. With tensions mountin in Europe and Asia, FDR also saw the potential of the interior South to house airplane manufacturing, far from the vulnerabilities of the West Coast and the Noreast. To jump-start production after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department required airplane manufacturers to share secrets and work together to produce planes quickly, and it awarded contracts accordingly.
- Lured by local advocates, Bell Aircraft opened a plant to build B-29 bombers in Marietta, which was home to Rickenbacker Airfield that ran along two major highways connected to Atlanta. The Cobb County Times called it "the greatest single industrial enterprise ever established south of the Ohio River." Bell Bomber, as the plant was known locally, produced 668 airplanes for the war effort and it paid more than twice the average wage rates in the area.
- Less than a month after two B-29s dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bell Bomber closed its doors. Marietta residents feared abandonment by the new industry, but the established infrastructure proved attractive to the burgeoning military-industrial complex. With the onset of the Korean War, the federal government awarded a factory contract to Lockheed in 1950 to build Boeing B-47 aircraft in the former Bell plant. Lockheed has remained an anchor industry in the region ever since, and Cobb County has become an affluent suburb of Atlanta. In fact, the postwar baby boom in Atlanta's northern suburbs during the 1950s led to the 1963 decision by the Georgia board of regents to establish a junior college in Kennesaw. Fifty years later, Kennesaw State is Georgia's third largest public university.
- Many Bell workers had young children, but the Bell plant did not provide onsite daycare. In partnership with the federal government, the Marietta Housing Authority built housing projects for Bell employees with 24-hour childcare facilities in 1943. Bell workers established themselves in the community with the help of these facilities, and many chose to stay even after the war ended.
Click on the button below to read an article about the establishment of the Bell Bomber plant in Cobb County from the Blair Family scrapbooks in the Kennesaw State University Archives:
While you read, consider these questions:
- How does this article emphasize the anticipated economic impact of the Bell Bomber plant? What can we infer about how the Great Depression impacted this region? What economic changes are anticipated, both short- and long-term?
- How does this article demonstrate the war effort promoting advances in technology? Suburban growth?
- The article notes that the plant will be a “blackout converter.” What does this tell us about the experience of living and working on the American home front during World War II?
Jessie Moss, home front worker
Born in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1918, Jessie Moss took a job at the Bell Bomber Plant in Cobb County during World War II. She worked on a team building fuselages for B-29 bombers. When her husband returned from fighting in the Pacific, Moss paid for the construction of their first home with money saved from her job at Bell.
View a clip from Moss' 2016 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
Books Go to War: The Victory Book Campaign
One of the ways home front workers supported U.S. troops was through the Victory Book Campaign established in 1942. This initiative was a collaboration between the United Services Organization, the Red Cross, and librarians across the nation. The Victory Book Campaign encouraged Americans to donate good-quality books for soldiers to read while overseas. Arming the U.S. military with books allowed home front workers to support the educational goals and mental health of soldiers. The campaign also served to condemn the practice of book burning, which occurred frequently under the Nazi regime. Americans from all areas of the country donated books to the program. In Georgia, the schools of LaGrange, Hogansville, and Troup County alone donated 1326 books to the cause.
Question to consider: Click the link below and view images from the Victory Book Campaign courtesy of the Library of Congress. How do these images inspire patriotism?
Image: Poster advertising the "Victory Book Campaign," 1943. Courtesy University of Illinois Libraries.
Georgia Trains the Troops
- General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, felt that better training would have prevented tremendous losses of life and limb during World War I. At his recommendation, the Army chose Fort Benning as the home of a new Infantry School in 1918. The institution of the nation's first peacetime draft two decades later would test the school's methods as well as provoke controversy. One U.S. senator said that the Selective Service law wold "slit the throat of the last great democracy still living." Nevertheless, more than 16 million men between the ages of 21 and 35 registered for the draft. Many would train at Fort Benning.
- The number of soldiers stationed at fort Benning increased dramatically with U.S. entry into World War II. Soldiers who began their training at the Infantry School received specialized training elsewhere before shipping out to the European, Pacific, and North African theaters of war. Fort Benning was best known for its parachute school where some of the "toughest of American soldiers" were trained to "touch the ground fighting." Paratroopers began their training at Camp Toccoa in Northeast Georgia and then finished parachute training at Benning. Benning's units, including auxiliary units for women, were racially segregated. Black and white soldiers lived separate lives from the barracks to the mess hall.
- Racial and gender integration of the infantry proceeded slowly after World War II. The last segregated facilities closed at Fort Benning in the 1970s, and combat units welcomed women for the first time in 2017. After World War II ended, Fort Benning became a demonstration site for new tactics and weapons. It continued to train soldiers for the conflicts of the Cold War, including Vietnam, when the draft became much more controversial. Once the draft was abolished in 1973, military training continued with an all-volunteer Army. U.S. involvement in global conflicts has required a combat force ready to "Win in a Complex World," and Fort Benning has remained vital as a training facility for that force.
Reuben Griffin, veteran
Born in Southwest Georgia in 1923, Reuben Griffin was initially deferred by his local draft board because he was considered more useful as a farmer than a soldier. By 1944 the need for soldiers was so great that Griffin had to leave his farm behind. He completed training at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and spent a year as part of an occupational force in Japan.
View a clip from Griffin's 2016 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
Books Go to War: Armed Services Editions
By 1943, the Victory Book Campaign had collected over ten million books for the U.S. military. Even though the campaign was successful, many of the donated books were in heavy hardcover formats or in poor condition. Soldiers, however, needed lightweight books in good condition. To resolve this issue, a group of publishers partnered with the Council on Books in Wartime to produce inexpensive paperback books for soldiers known as Armed Services Editions. These books provided soldiers with diverse reading material ranging from classic fiction to music history and scientific essays. Between 1943 and 1947, over 123 million copies of Armed Services Editions were produced.
Question to consider: Why do you think access to reading material was crucial for soldiers during WWII?
Foreign Prisoners of War
- Cruel and disorganized treatment marred past programs for managing prisoners of war in the United States and around the world. Negotiations among combatants during World War I began a process to codify protections for war prisoners that led to the establishment of the first Geneva Convention in 1929. In the First World War, Georgia housed two of the nation's five prisoner-of-war camps, one at Fort Oglethorpe and one at Fort McPherson. These sites tested programs that compelled prisoners to work in agriculture and industry and provided them with intellectual and leisure activities to stave off the dangers of boredom.
- The United States embraced a policy of shipping prisoners of war stateside during World War II. Leaders recognized the economic potential of POWs to replace labor lost during the draft. They also understood that far from their homelands, prisoners would be less likely to escape. German, Austrian, and Italian POWs were held at military bases in Georgia as well as numerous satellite camps. Life for POWs was strictly regimented and included compulsory paid work in non-war-related industry for enlisted men. Officers were exempt. Prisoners in Georgia harvested cotton, tomatoes, and peanuts. Camp Gordon, now called Fort Gordon, was known for the quality of its educational programming. POWs could even pursue bachelor's degrees that were recognized by their home countries.
- POWs were treated so well in the U.S. that some civilians and soldiers resented what they saw as "coddling." This was especially true for African American soldiers contending with Jim Crow laws, which did not apply to the white prisoners. Still, in 1945 when German atrocities in concentration camps were reported widely in the news, some U.S. guards cut rations and threatened to punish POWs, especially those they suspected of being Nazis. Yet, after the war, many POWs wrote fond letters to farmers and others who had given them work. German POW Radbert Kohlhaas, who had been interned at Camp Gordon, described "a life that was incomparably better than we had known as German soldiers."
Faye Edwards, veteran
Born in a coal mining town in West Virginia in 1923, Faye Edwards took a job at a defense plant in Baltimore during World War II. In 1944 she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and trained at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia before completing two tours of duty in Europe. Edwards later transferred to Japan, where she met her husband and started a family.
View a clip from Edwards' 2016 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
The Farm Front in Georgia
- After the Civil War, Georgia relied on a system of sharecropping, and "King Cotton" reigned supreme. Caught in a vicious cycle of falling prices and rising production, farmers overworked the land, leading to soil erosion and decreased crop quality. Hoping to reverse the trend, Congress authorized money for university extension services beginning in 1914. The University of Georgia became the center for a network of county agents who worked with farmers to teach scientific practices and share new crop varieties. During the Great Depression, these agents worked with federal agencies to explain New Deal policies and programs to farmers. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933 attempted to curtail overproduction by paying farmers not to grow cotton and other commodities, but it met with limited success.
- World War II created new markets for American agricultural goods. To engage the "farm front" in the war effort, county extension agents recommended specific crops, such as peanuts. Despite labor shortages, farmers found themselves with cash for state-of-the-art machinery, and production increased along with demand. Sharecroppers, who had mostly missed the benefits of the New Deal, found military and industrial jobs in Georgia and elsewhere.
- World War II modernized agriculture in the South and diversified the economy, ending the dominance of sharecropping forever. Many returning soldiers who made use of the GI Bill leveraged their education to move into new, more lucrative fields. The rise of new industries across the state attracted people to cities and suburbs and reduced the rural population. Those who remained in agriculture followed national trends. many invested in poultry during the 1950s and 1960s. The latter half of the 20th century saw a sharp decrease in the number of family farms but a steady increase in agricultural production. Today, agribusiness continues to thrive in Georgia, making up about 10 percent of the state's economy.
- The image at the start of this section, featuring soup cans, is an example of a successful marketing campaign aimed at families. Extension agents worked directly with Georgia families to conserve food during the Great Depression, and to teach women and young children how to plant Victory Gardens. Fresh vegetables and canned goods produced at home would help families stay healthy during the war.
Geraldine Anthony, home front worker
Born in Bartow County, Georgia, in 1927, Geraldine Anthony worked as a janitor at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta during World War II. She swept the factory floor of metal shavings and debris that fell from B-29 planes during construction. After the war, she worked on a cotton farm before taking a job with Goodyear Tire in Rome, Georgia.
View a clip from Anthony's 2018 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
- How does Anthony describe her postwar job on a cotton farm?
- How do you think Anthony’s experience challenges narratives of prosperity and social change in the postwar era?
Books Go to War: Transforming Attitudes
"There'll never be a slave man or slave woman in my house. . . . We don't take to black men or white men doing our work for us in the mountains."
-- Simon speaking to his newlywed wife Savanna in Deep River
Armed Services Editions provided literature to soldiers that addressed topics such as slavery, race relations, and freedom. Henrietta Buckmaster's historical novel Deep River is set in the mountains of western Georgia and presents an opposition to slavery through the eyes of a white farmer. The fact that Buckmaster's novel was published and disseminated as an Armed Services Edition shows that conversations about race, economics, and American history were taking place in literature and of interests to the public.
Capital of a Changing South
- As the capital of Georgia and a railroad hub for the Southeast, Atlanta grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Considered a leading "New South" city, Atlanta turned its eyes to the future with city boosters and business people advocating a pragmatic approach to race relations. Although Atlanta would come to be called "the city too busy to hate," it still grew along strict racial boundaries. By the 1930s, two distinct business districts, Peachtree Street and Auburn Avenue, formed as a result of segregation. Even federally-funded projects, including the schools, hospitals, and public housing of the New Deal, were segregated by race. White-only Techwood Homes, built in 1935, was followed by University Homes for Black residents three years later.
- Building on a relationship with the federal government formed in prewar years, Atlanta became a leader in coordinating the construction of defense plants and military installations in Georgia during World War II. Businesses such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines made strategic investments, both at home and abroad, that increased Atlanta's prosperity and appeal during the war and after. White and black soldiers on leave were drawn to the bustling city and its diverse entertainments. Yet, some black soldiers, especially those who served in Europe, were unnerved by Atlanta's segregated restaurants, dance halls, and USO clubs. Even at Terminal station, Travelers' Aid workers welcomed black and white soldiers through separate entrances.
- African American servicemen returning from war in the late 1940s rejected the city's racial status quo. They helped to energize the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, where leaders in the white and black communities had toed a conservative line for decades. In 1948, the first black officers joined the city police force. A decade later, organized protests led to the desegregation of the transit system and public schools. One of the toughest battles centered on the integration of residential areas as African Americans bought homes in white neighborhoods. Refusing to live on the same street as blacks, many whites moved to suburbs, reshaping the map of metropolitan Atlanta for decades to come.
"Playground scene at the Capitol Homes project. Nearby is Atlanta's largest war nursery, located in the Community Building, with an enrollment of 150 children of war-working mothers. Similar nurseries are operated on all projects, feeding and caring for these children."
Excerpt from Building a Greater Atlanta: Report of the Atlanta Housing Authority for the Years 1943 and 1944, Marietta Housing Authority Records, Kennesaw State University Archives.
Norbert Friedman, Holocaust survivor
Born in Poland in 1922, Norbert Friedman was forced into the Mielec concentration camp after the German invasion. He would survive eleven camps throughout the war building airplane engines for the German air force. After liberation Friedman completed his college education in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1950.
View a clip from Friedman's 2013 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
- What hurdles did Friedman face in his quest to become a journalist?
- How do you think Friedman’s experience compares to traditional immigration narratives in United States history?
Books Go to War: New Opportunities
Armed Services Editions books provided soldiers with reading material to inspire their post-war futures in a rapidly changing society. Books such as A Small Store and Independence shown below, appealed to soldiers with entrepreneurial interests.
"It is never too late to go to school. Before and after you open your store, see whether there are evening schools or vocational schools in your neighborhood that offer any courses that might be valuable to you as a merchant. . . . Often there is no charge for these courses."
-- Quote from chapter two of A Small Store and Independence
Preserving Georgia's Coastal City
- Situated twenty miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, Savannah has always played an important role in Georgia's fortunes. In the early 1800s, merchants built mansions along the city's squares using money from cotton exports and the slave trade. With the Civil War came a Union blockade that laid waste to the economy and starved inland parts of the state of food and supplies. After the boll weevil decimated the cotton crop, Savannah shifted to food and paper-processing industries. the city also became the world's main supplier of naval stores, the pine tar used to waterproof sailing vessels. At the start of World War II, Savannah was chosen as one of many sites for ship construction along the East Coast, after Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act making weaponry available to the Allies.
- Weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation secured a federal contract to build Liberty ships on the Savannah River two miles south of the city. Because of its lighting-fast construction from prefabricated materials, the Liberty Ship was considered only a "five-year vessel." It nonetheless played an essential part in the war effort, carrying much-needed ammunition and supplies to the troops fighting in Europe. With shipyards already in place, Southeastern became a powerhouse of production over the next four years. A torpedo fired by a German U-boat sank the first ship, the SS James Oglethorpe, christened in honor of Georgia's founder, but Southeastern launched 87 more Liberty ships before the end of the war.
- Savannah said a hasty goodbye to its largest-ever manufacturing plant, as the war's end brought an abrupt closure to the Southeastern shipyard. The age of the automobile was in full swing after the war, and some of the city's oldest structures fell to the wrecking ball to make way for parking facilities. When the City Market was destroyed in 1954, a group of preservation-minded women began to fight. They created inventories of historic districts, raised money to purchase endangered properties, and established the historic Savannah Foundation which continues to attract international attention. Their preservation model influenced other cities and municipalities across America in the decades that followed the war.
Why do you think the city of Savannah allowed the shipyard site to decay after World War II?
Jane Tucker, home front worker
Born in Lineville, Alabama, in 1927, Jane Tucker moved to Savannah to get a job at Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation during World War II. She became a rod welder and made $1.20 an hour. After the war she attended Northwestern University and became a dental hygienist. In 2010 she started the Rome, Georgia, chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association.
View a clip from Tucker's 2015 oral history interview below, and consider the questions that follow.
"The Army is trying to educate the men who have had little or no education..."
Click the button below to read a letter written by a soldier stationed at Chatham Field near Savannah, from the Lawrence Family Papers in the Kennesaw State University Archives:
While reading, consider how educational opportunities and training provided by the military for servicemen during World War II impacted their lives during and after the war.
How did new warfare technologies change...
B-29 in flight over Marietta. The Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta Army Airfield, and Kennesaw Mountain are all visible in the background, ca. 1943-1945. Image courtesy Kennesaw State University Archives
What was the impact of World War II on soldiers in...
In December 1942, the Easy Company of the Second Battalion of the 506th completed its training at Camp Toccoa with a grueling 115-mile march to Atlanta where they boarded trains bound for fort Benning. Easy Company played a vital role in the Normandy invasion, landing behind enemy lines at Utah Beach to begin the liberation of France. Historian Stephen Ambrose chronicled their story in his bestselling book Band of Brothers, which director Steven Spielberg made into a 10-hour epic aired on HBO. Paratrooper jump training was shifted to Fort Benning from Camp Toccoa after a disastrous transport accident caused by a too-short runway in 1943. Image courtesy Atlanta History Center.
How did World War II change women's lives in...
Orientation class for white female employees led by Mrs. MaNita Dunwoody at "426," Bell Aircraft plant, Marietta, Georgia, ca. 1942-1945. Image courtesy Kennesaw State University Archives
What did the end of the war mean for...
The lead car cavalcade featuring General Courtney Hodges and 50 First Army veterans makes its way down Peachtree Street amid an avalanche of ticker tape and confetti. Troops from the First Army were among the lead elements in the Normandy landing and the first into Paris. thousands of grateful and proud Atlantans turned out to welcome home Georgia's most famous soldier on "Heroes' Day," May 24, 1945. General Hodges was born in Perry, Georgia. Image courtesy Atlanta History Center
Thank you for exploring our online educational module, Georgia Goes to War: A Regional Perspective on the World War II Home Front. If you would like to learn more about the many resources the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books at Kennesaw State University offers, please follow the link below.