James G. Thompson: Originator of the Double V Campaign

White linen square printed with red and blue vertical stripes with white letter Vs at the center
A red, white, and blue linen handkerchief promoting the Double V campaign from World War II.

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Quick Facts
African American journalist and veteran who inspired the Double V Campaign
Place of Birth:
Wichita, Kansas
Date of Birth:
May 27, 1915
Place of Death:
Wichita, Kansas
Date of Death:
October 1999

James Gratz Thompson was an African American journalist and veteran who inspired the Double V Campaign. Despite the opportunities promised to some African Americans during World War II, Thompson was relegated to working in the cafeteria at a local defense plant. In January 1942, Thompson wrote to the Pittsburgh Courier to call out the discrimination and inequality that African Americans experienced in the US while fighting for freedom overseas. His question “Should I sacrifice to live half-American?” resonated with thousands of readers. It inspired the Courier to widely promote the concept of “double victory”—the idea that defeating tyranny abroad would also bring about the defeat of racism at home.

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Early Life and Education

James Gratz Thompson was born in Wichita, Kansas on March 27, 1915. His parents James W. and Uberia Thompson were active members of Wichita’s Black community, especially in social, civic, and church affairs. 

By the 1940s, there were approximately 6,000 African Americans living in Wichita. Sixty percent of them, including Thompson’s parents, owned their own homes. However, many of Wichita’s public institutions and spaces were segregated. Thompson attended the all-Black L’Ouverture for grade school, but later went to the integrated Wichita High School North. 

Like his parents, Thompson was very active in his community. He played on the Cudahy Packing Company’s basketball team for eight years. In addition to his athletic skill, Thompson was an excellent student. He represented his high school at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and was a member of the runner-up team at the national interscholastic relays. 

While in high school, Thompson enrolled in business and journalism extension classes that prepared him for study at Washburn College. After graduation, he passed the civil service exam and became a junior typist in the Department of Commerce.

World War II in Wichita

During World War II, Wichita became a major production center for military aircraft. Many aircraft companies (such as Boeing, Stearman, and Cessna) were already based there. As early as 1928, the local chamber of commerce had dubbed Wichita the “Air Capital of the World.” Military officials approved Wichita as the primary producer of B-29 Superfortress bombers in August 1940. Over the course of the war, Kansas produced 34,500 military aircraft.

Like many other home front cities, wartime production in Wichita generated new opportunities for African American citizens. Wartime necessity lowered racial barriers to military service and defense industry jobs, which often offered higher wages and promotion potential. But progress was incremental.

As of April 1942, the city’s four aircraft plants only hired about 150 Black employees. Despite increasing demands for industrial labor, Cessna Aircraft Company initially refused to hire African Americans in positions other than janitors or similarly unskilled work. The Culver plant excluded African Americans altogether. Locked out of jobs on the factory floor, Thompson worked in the cafeteria at Cessna. 

Birth of the Double V Campaign

In January 1942, Thompson submitted a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s leading African American newspapers. In elegant prose, he questioned the hypocrisy that Black soldiers faced every day. While laying down their lives to secure democracy abroad, African Americans experienced discrimination, inequality, and racial violence in the United States. “Should I sacrifice to live half-American?” he implored.

Although he was only 26 years old, Thompson’s letter gave voice to discontent shared by generations of African Americans. He challenged readers to reimagine World War II as an opportunity to defeat tyranny abroad and end racism and inequality at home. This concept of “double victory” is credited as the origin of the “Double V” campaign.

In the days after the Courier published Thompson’s letter, the newspaper began to promote its message widely. The Courier allotted significant space to the Double V campaign within the paper and followed up with Thompson multiple times. Double V drawings, articles, and photographs began to cover its pages. By mid-July, hundreds of readers sent letters and telegrams to the Courier, voicing their enthusiasm and support for the campaign. The Double V campaign soon leapt off the page and into themed events such as baseball games, dances, and beauty contests. The popularity of the Double V campaign enabled the Courier to surpass the Chicago Defender as the country's leading Black newspaper, with a national circulation of nearly 200,000.

In March 1942, Thompson quit his job as a cafeteria worker after Cessna refused to grant a five-cent per hour raise. Although Thompson’s wages are not known, it is possible that Thompson’s raise would have exceeded Cessna’s rumored maximum wage for Black workers. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin, Midcontinent Airframe Plants paid janitors (the position most commonly held by African Americans) an average 66.2 cents per hour in June 1942.

By then, Thompson had left Wichita to take a new job as director of the Courier’s national Double V campaign. Thompson served in this role, promoting the campaign, until February 1943 when he enlisted in the US Army. Even before Thompson’s departure, the end of the Double V campaign was imminent. Between July and October 1942, the campaign began to appear less and less frequently in the Courier and took up less space on its pages. Although the campaign’s news run formally ended in 1943, its message persisted throughout the war and in the years that followed.

Military Service, Later Life, and Legacy

Thompson served as a corporal with the 2257th QM Truck Company (Aviation) in the India-Burma Theater. “QM” or the Quartermaster Corps was responsible for supplying soldiers on the front lines. Most QM units, including Thompson’s, were segregated. Thompson was honorably discharged in 1946 and was awarded a Soldier’s Medal. The Soldier’s Medal is the highest honor that a soldier could receive for a heroic act in non-combat situations.

Not much is known about Thompson’s life after World War II. Historical records indicate that he was refused his army pension because he had not lived in Pennsylvania long enough before enlisting. Thompson also lived in California for a time, where he married Erma Hortense Britt in San Bernardino. They later divorced. Thompson eventually returned to Wichita, where he died in October 1999.

On October 15, 1999, the Wichita Eagle published Thompson’s obituary. Although it described him as a journalist, it did not mention the Double V Campaign. Nevertheless, Thompson left an indelible mark on the experiences of African Americans during World War II and the civil rights movement to come.

Wichita and Pittsburgh were both designated as American World War II Heritage Cities in 2022.

The content for this article was researched and written by Jade Ryerson, Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.


Ashcraft, Jenny. “The Double V Campaign.” Fishwrap (blog). February 15, 2022.  

Bristol, Douglas, Jr. “What Can We Learn About World War II from Black Quartermasters?” National World War II Museum. August 27, 2021.

Fearon, Peter. “Ploughshares into Airplanes: Manufacturing Industry and Workers in Kansas during World War II.” Kansas History 22, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 298-314.  

Johnson, Judith R. and Craig L. Torbenson. “Stories from the Heartland: African American Experiences in Wichita, Kansas.” Kansas History 21, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 220-233.

Pittsburgh Courier. “Five Newspapers Join ‘Double V’ Campaign: Wichita, Kan. Will Observe ‘Double V’ with 2-Day Picnic.” June 13, 1942.  

Pittsburgh Courier. “Soldier’s Medal for Ex-Courierite.” November 17, 1945.  

Schuyler, George E. “‘Make Democracy Real,’ Says Double V Originator: Typical American Negro Youth Urges All Out Effort to Gain Rights.” Pittsburgh Courier. April 18, 1942.  

Solomon, Louis M, and Arnold N. Tolles. “Earnings in Eastern and Midwestern Airframe Plants, 1942.” Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, No. 728. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1943.  

Thompson, James G. “Should I Sacrifice to Live ‘Half-American?’: Suggest Double VV for Double Victory Against Axis Forces and Ugly Prejudices on the Home Front.” Pittsburgh Courier. January 31, 1942.

Thompson, James G. Comment on response to Double V campaign. Pittsburgh Courier. March 7, 1942.

Washburn, Patrick. “The Pittsburgh Courier’s Double V Campaign in 1942.” American Journalism 3, no. 2 (1986): 73-86.  

Last updated: April 10, 2023