B. United States ex rel. Lynn v. Downer

In the absence of a concerted litigation effort to end segregative policies in the military during World War II, black servicemen experienced violations of their rights at the hands of both white servicemen and white civilians. At Fort Benning, Georgia, in May of 1941, the body of an African American private was found hanging from a tree. In August of the same year, a white soldier and a black soldier were killed in a gun battle in Fayetteville, North Carolina after an alleged episode of brutality by white military police. Even after the war concluded, veterans continued to face threats. In February of 1946, army veteran Issac Woodard was ejected from a commercial bus and beaten by civilian police, resulting in permanent blindness; he was dressed in his military uniform at the time of the beating. While these and many more instances of egregious behavior spurred numerous NAACP complaints, the complaints caused few, if any, changes in segregative policies. Furthermore, there was a noticeable lack of activity in the *95 federal courts on behalf of the rights of servicemen. The Lynn case is the only instance of a direct attack on the military's policy of segregation in the federal courts during the Forgotten Years

In June of 1942, Winfred W. Lynn was notified that he had been placed on "1-a" status, making him eligible to be drafted. In response, he wrote the following letter to the draft board:

Gentlemen: I am in receipt of my draft-reclassification notice. Please be informed that I am ready to

serve in any unit of the armed forces of my country which is not segregated by race. Unless I am assured that I can serve in a mixed regiment and that I will not be compelled to serve in a unit undemocratically selected as a Negro group, I will refuse to report for induction. Shortly thereafter, on September 8, Lynn received notification to report for induction on September 18. After failing to obey the induction order because he had not received the assurances he wanted, he was indicted on charges of draft evasion. Lynn claimed that his induction into segregated units (under the auspices of a quota) violated Section 4(a) of the 1940 Act, which provided that "there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color." Lynn filed a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court dismissed. Upon the advice of his attorneys (one of whom was his brother), Lynn entered the Army in order to enable him to raise the question of discrimination more fully. He then appealed the dismissal of his case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which upheld the district court's ruling that the racial quota system used by the military was not discriminatory. The court cited the Army's history of segregating black and white soldiers, proclaiming "[t]o hold that the provision in section 4 forbidding discrimination invalidates such induction routine would frustrate. . . the development of an effective armed force, the prompt creation of which was the very purpose and object of the Act." The dissent aptly noted that legislative history showed that the majority ignored the intent of the proponents of the Act's anti-discrimination clause, which was to disallow army induction on the basis of race or *96 color. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which denied Lynn's writ for the reason that the case was moot; Lynn was no longer under the command of respondent Downer but was serving with another unit. 8 By denying certiorari, the Supreme Court gave a de facto rubber stamp of the military's discriminatory policies.

Lynn was not significant for changing Army policy; on the contrary, until the issuance of Executive Order 9981 in 1948, segregation and discrimination remained military policy. The significance of the case was that, for the first time, it brought before the Supreme Court the question of segregation practiced not by the South, but by the federal government itself. By avoiding the issue at this time, the Court postponed addressing the issue of segregation in the federal context until the Brown companion, Bolling v. Sharpe.