Sept. 14, 1940

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act. Credit: War Department.

With the Nazi army sweeping across Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act, which required all men between 26 and 35 to register for the military draft. The decision also meant that Black men — unlike in the past — could join all branches of the U.S. military. 

“America stands at the crossroads of its destiny,” Roosevelt declared. “Time and distance have been shortened. A few weeks have seen great nations fall. We cannot remain indifferent to the philosophy of force now rampant in the world. We must and will marshal our great potential strength to fend off war from our shores. We must and will prevent our land from becoming a victim of aggression.” 

In December 1941, Japanese air forces bombed Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, and the nation was thrust into war. With this attack on America, men, both Black and white, flooded recruitment centers to sign up.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.