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A Look Back on Montclair During the WWII Era

Interviewees: Ms. Corine Tyson and Ms. Muriel Burwell

Both women are Montclair natives. They grew up during the 1940’s and were students at Montclair High School during World War II.

The ladies stated, “there was not a lot of commotion surrounding it [the war] in town.” In The Montclair Times, a weekly town newspaper, they only remember reports of death; they do not remember personal, political, social, or economic commentary or informational articles surrounding the war as one might see now. War information, even if sought for, would more likely have been obtained from a New York City nationally circulated newspaper such as The New York Times, or a county newspaper like The Star Ledger. Such a testament may reflect on the ages of Tyson and Burwell during the WWII era. As youths during a time of general political consensus (especially a time of war) not only might they have not been in tune with global news during that time period but there may have been less published material about the horrors of war. Also, this was a popular war throughout the US; a war fought for Democracy over Fascism and retaliation for a premeditated attack by the Japanese. This might account for the lack of commentary or information in the newspapers.

Brave American boys gave their lives in combat. It is important to remember that in a time period before war was broadcast via television to living rooms across the country, it was difficult for the average citizen to understand the atrocities of war. The last “war on the home front” was the American Civil War ending in 1865, over 70 years before the U.S. repealed its neutrality. From the Hudson River on the edge of New York City on the east coast to the San Francisco Bay on the west coast, Americans did not see bombs bursting in air. To many, the Second World War was a whole world away. The closest many got to war was hearing old stories from fathers and grandfathers who had fought in World War I. The reality of war was different in America where people were unaffected by its brutality.

Montclair had citizens, young men, who went off to fight to uphold the ideals of democracy. Could local reports of the war overseas have shown residents that their boys were unsupported?

The ladies did, however, remember some local effects of the war. Ms. Tyson talked about how she felt when she found out a friend of hers from Montclair High School was killed in the war. She was sad, pessimistic, and did not know if she saw a future for herself. The war had come home.

Most changes they felt were related to economics. They remember having rations of certain items and food stamps being issued. Also, as women it was hard to find accommodating jobs. While men were fighting overseas, employment became available to and necessary for women. Though women were then able to open a doorway to the workplace much of the system remained unjust. Opportunity for advancement was minimal and they were paid less than their male counterparts. Tyson and Burwell recall that widespread hardships concerned the unavailability of child support during the workday; they would baby-sit for such families.

The ladies vividly recall the feeling that World War II was necessary and had thoughts of sympathy for all those who faced direct impact.

-- Jennifer Augustine

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