Trudier Harris-Lopez. South of Tradition: Essays on African American …

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  • Introduction
  • The Great Migration
  • The War, Democracy
    and Justice
  • Racial Violence and
    Segregated Armed
    Forces
  • Women’s Contributions
  • Political Leaders
  • Fighting Overseas
  • After the War
  • Bibliography

African Americans and World War I

Chad Williams – Hamilton College

World War I was a transformative moment in African-American history. What began as a seemingly distant European conflict soon became an event with revolutionary implications for the social, economic, and political future of black people. The war directly impacted all African Americans, male and female, northerner and southerner, soldier and civilian. Migration, military service, racial violence, and political protest combined to make the war years one of the most dynamic periods of the African-American experience. Black people contested the boundaries of American democracy, demanded their rights as American citizens, and asserted their very humanity in ways both subtle and dramatic. Recognizing the significance of World War I is essential to developing a full understanding of modern African-American history and the struggle for black freedom.

When war erupted in Europe in August 1914, most Americans, African Americans included, saw no reason for the United States to become involved. This sentiment strengthened as war between the German-led Central Powers and the Allied nations of France, Great Britain, and Russia ground to a stalemate and the death toll increased dramatically. The black press sided with France, because of its purported commitment to racial equality, and chronicled the exploits of colonial African soldiers serving in the French army. Nevertheless, African Americans viewed the bloodshed and destruction occurring overseas as far removed from the immediacies of their everyday lives.

The war did, however, have a significant impact on African Americans, particularly the majority who lived in the South. The war years coincided with the Great Migration, one of the largest internal movements of people in American history.

 

The Great Migration

Between 1914 and 1920, roughly 500,000 black southerners packed their bags and headed to the North, fundamentally transforming the social, cultural, and political landscape of cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. The Great Migration would reshape black America and the nation as a whole.

Black southerners faced a host of social, economic, and political challenges that prompted their migration to the North. The majority of black farmers labored as sharecroppers, remained in perpetual debt, and lived in dire poverty. Their condition worsened in 1915–16 as a result of a boll weevil infestation that ruined cotton crops throughout the South. These economic obstacles were made worse by social and political oppression. By the time of the war, most black people had been disfranchised, effectively stripped of their right to vote through both legal and extralegal means.

Jim Crow segregation, legitimized by the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Supreme Court ruling, forced black people to use separate and usually inferior facilities. The southern justice system systematically denied them equal protection under the law and condoned the practice of vigilante mob violence. As an aspiring migrant from Alabama wrote in a letter to the Chicago Defender, “[I] am in the darkness of the south and [I] am trying my best to get out.”

Wartime opportunities in the urban North gave hope to such individuals. The American industrial economy grew significantly during the war. However, the conflict also cut off European immigration and reduced the pool of available cheap labor. Unable to meet demand with existing European immigrants and white women alone, northern businesses increasingly looked to black southerners to fill the void. In turn, the prospect of higher wages and improved working conditions prompted thousands of black southerners to abandon their agricultural lives and start anew in major industrial centers. Black women remained by and large confined to domestic work, while men for the first time in significant numbers made entryways into the northern manufacturing, packinghouse, and automobile industries.

Anxious white southerners claimed that northern labor agents lulled unsuspecting black southerners to the North and into a life of urban misery. But, to the contrary, the Great Migration was a social movement propelled by black people and their desires for a better life. The Chicago Defender, which circulated throughout the South, implored black people to break free from their oppression and take advantage of opportunities in the North. Even more influential were the testimonials and letters of the migrants themselves. Migrants relied on informal networks of family and friends to facilitate their move to the North. Individuals would often leave to scout out conditions, secure a job, and find living arrangements, then send for the rest of their family. Word of mouth provided aspiring migrants with crucial information about where to relocate, how to get there, and how best to earn a living. This sense of community eased a black migrant’s transition to city life.

Southern migrants did not always find the “promised land” they envisioned. They frequently endured residential segregation, substandard living conditions, job discrimination, and in many cases, the hostilities of white residents. Older black residents sometimes resented the presence of the new migrants, as neighborhoods became increasingly overcrowded and stigmatized as ghettos. But life in the North was nevertheless exciting and liberating. No longer subjected to the indignities of Jim Crow and the constant threat of racial violence, southern migrants experienced a new sense of freedom. Southern culture infused northern black communities with a vibrancy that inspired new forms of music, literature, and art. The Great Migration marked a significant moment in the economic, political, social, and cultural growth of modern black America.

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The War, Democracy and Justice

By early 1917, the clouds of war had reached American shores. President Woodrow Wilson initially pledged to keep the country out of the conflict, arguing that the United States had nothing to gain from involving itself in the European chaos. Wilson won reelection in 1916 on a campaign of neutrality, but a series of provocations gradually changed his position. Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean and sank several vessels carrying American passengers. On March 1, 1917, the Zimmermann Telegram, in which Germany encouraged Mexico to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers, became public and enflamed pro-war sentiments. Wilson felt compelled to act, and on April 2, 1917, he stood before Congress and issued a declaration of war against Germany. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he boldly stated, framing the war effort as a crusade to secure the rights of democracy and self-determination on a global scale.

These words immediately resonated with many African Americans, who viewed the war as an opportunity to bring about true democracy in the United States. It would be insincere, many black people argued, for the United States to fight for democracy in Europe while African Americans remained second-class citizens. “If America truly understands the functions of democracy and justice, she must know that she must begin to promote democracy and justice at home first of all,” Arthur Shaw of New York proclaimed. The black press used Wilson’s pronouncement to frame the war as a struggle for African American civil rights. “Let us have a real democracy for the United States and then we can advise a house cleaning over on the other side of the water,” the Baltimore Afro-American asserted. For African Americans, the war became a crucial test of America’s commitment to the ideal of democracy and the rights of citizenship for all people, regardless of race.

The United States government mobilized the entire nation for war, and African Americans were expected to do their part. The military instituted a draft in order to create an army capable of winning the war. The government demanded “100% Americanism” and used the June 1917 Espionage Act and the May 1918 Sedition Act to crack down on dissent. Large segments of the black population, however, remained hesitant to support a cause they deemed hypocritical. A small but vocal number of African Americans explicitly opposed black participation in the war. A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, editors of the radical socialist newspaper The Messenger, openly encouraged African Americans to resist military service and, as a result, were closely monitored by federal intelligence agents. Many other African Americans viewed the war apathetically and found ways to avoid military service. As a black resident from Harlem quipped, “The Germans ain’t done nothin’ to me, and if they have, I forgive ’em.”

Most African Americans nevertheless saw the war as an opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism and their place as equal citizens in the nation. Black political leaders believed that if the race sacrificed for the war effort, the government would have no choice but to reward them with greater civil rights. “Colored folks should be patriotic,” the Richmond Planet insisted. “Do not let us be chargeable with being disloyal to the flag.” Black men and women for the most part approached the war with a sense of civic duty. Over one million African Americans responded to their draft calls, and roughly 370,000 black men were inducted into the army. Charles Brodnax, a farmer from Virginia recalled, “I felt that I belonged to the Government of my country and should answer to the call and obey the orders in defense of Democracy.”

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Racial Violence and Segregated Armed Forces

Racial violence tested blacks’ patriotic resolve. On July 2, 1917, in East St. Louis, tensions between black and white workers sparked a bloody four-day riot that left upwards of 125 black residents dead and the nation shocked. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) responded by holding a Silent Protest Parade in New York City on July 28, 1917. Eight thousand marchers, the men dressed in black and the women and children in white, solemnly advanced down Fifth Avenue to the sound of muffled drums and holding signs such as the one that read, Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy.

Violence erupted again the following month in Houston, Texas. Black soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry, stationed at Camp Logan, had grown increasingly tired of racial discrimination and abuse from Houston’s white residents and from the police in particular. On the night of August 23, 1917, the soldiers retaliated by marching on the city and killing sixteen white civilians and law enforcement personnel. Four black soldiers died as well. The Houston rebellion shocked the nation and encouraged white southern politicians to oppose the future training of black soldiers in the South. Three military court-martial proceedings convicted 110 soldiers. Sixty-three received life sentences and thirteen were hung without due process. The army buried their bodies in unmarked graves.

Despite the bloodshed at Houston, the black press and civil rights organizations like the NAACP insisted that African Americans should receive the opportunity to serve as soldiers and fight in the war. Joel Spingarn, a former chairman of the NAACP, worked to establish an officers’ training camp for black candidates. “All of you cannot be leaders,” he stated, “but those of you who have the capacity for leadership must be given an opportunity to test and display it.” The black press vigorously debated the merits of a Jim Crow camp. W. E. B. Du Bois, the noted scholar, editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, and a close friend of Spingarn, supported the camp as a crucible of “talented tenth” black leadership, manhood, and patriotism. Black college students, particularly those at historically black institutions, were the driving force behind the camp. Howard University established the Central Committee of Negro College Men and recruited potential candidates from college campuses and black communities throughout the country. The camp opened on June 18, 1917, in Des Moines, Iowa, with 1,250 aspiring black officer candidates. At the close of the camp on October 17, 1917, 639 men received commissions, a historical first.

The military created two combat divisions for African Americans. One, the 92nd Division, was composed of draftees and officers. The second, the 93rd Division, was made up of mostly National Guard units from New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Massachusetts. The army, however, assigned the vast majority of soldiers to service units, reflecting a belief that black men were more suited for manual labor than combat duty. Black soldiers were stationed and trained throughout the country, although most facilities were located in the South. They had to endure racial segregation and often received substandard clothing, shelter, and social services. At the same time, the army presented many black servicemen, particularly those from the rural South, with opportunities unavailable to them as civilians, such as remedial education and basic health care. Military service was also a broadening experience that introduced black men to different people and different parts of the country.

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Women’s Contributions

Black women sacrificed as well. They contributed to the war effort in significant ways and formed the backbone of African-American patriotic activities. Clubwomen, many under the auspices of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), led “liberty loan” campaigns, held rallies, and provided crucial material and emotional support for black troops. Women joined war service organizations such as the YWCA and the Red Cross as well as establishing their own groups, like the Women’s Auxiliary of the New York 15th National Guard, to meet the specific needs of black soldiers.

The war also spurred an increase in political activism amongst black women. For the growing number of women who worked outside the home, the war created new opportunities for them to organize collectively and advocate for greater pay and equitable working conditions. Laundresses in the South formed associations and engaged in strikes to protest unfair treatment at the hands of their white employers. In Mobile, Alabama, for example, some 250 laundry workers walked off the job, insisting, “We are protesting against this discourteous treatment and we intend to stay out until our communications are answered and they agree to deal with our committee.” Women and organizations like the NACW continued to protest against lynching and, with the suffrage movement reaching its apex, insisted upon the right of black women to vote.

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Political Leaders

The war and the pressures of patriotism tested the effectiveness of black political leaders. A number of prominent African Americans worked closely with the government both to rally black support for the war and to address issues such as lynching, segregation, and discrimination against soldiers that exacerbated black dissent. Emmett Scott, the former secretary to Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, served as a special assistant to the Secretary of War in charge of matters related to African Americans and the war. His efforts yielded limited results. He did, however, organize a major conference of black newspaper editors and political leaders in Washington, D.C., in June 1918, which produced a statement by the attendees professing their loyalty to the government. The following month, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote the editorial “Close Ranks,” in which he stated, “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.”

Du Bois’s words generated considerable controversy within the NAACP and in the pages of black newspapers across the country, due in part to the fact he was simultaneously advocating for an army captaincy in military intelligence. The controversy reflected the tension between patriotism and race loyalty many African Americans grappled with throughout the war and leaders such as Du Bois struggled to navigate effectively.

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Fighting Overseas

The war most directly impacted those African Americans called to fight and labor in the military overseas. Over 200,000 crossed the Atlantic and served in France. The majority worked in service units, broadly characterized as the Service of Supply (SOS). They dug ditches, cleaned latrines, transported supplies, cleared debris, and buried rotting corpses. The largest number of African-American SOS troops served as stevedores, working on the docks of Brest, St. Nazaire, Bordeaux, and other French port cities to load and unload crucial supplies. “I don’t want to stagger under heavy boxes,” one stevedore declared. “I want a gun on my shoulder and the opportunity to go to the front.” It was hard work, made worse by racial discrimination, but nevertheless essential to the success of the war effort.

The two black combat divisions, the 92nd and 93rd, made up of approximately 40,000 troops, did see battle. Unsure how to use black national guardsmen, the American army “loaned” the 93rd Division to the French army. It was the only American division to serve exclusively under French command. Despite having to acclimate to French methods of combat, the division’s four regiments performed exceptionally well and received numerous commendations.

The 93rd Division’s 369th Infantry Regiment from New York became the most famous fighting unit of African-American troops. Nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” the regiment first garnered notoriety for its world-class band, led by the acclaimed James Reese Europe and made up of top musicians from the United States and Puerto Rico. Europe’s band, along with other black regimental ensembles, popularized jazz to a war-torn French nation fascinated with black culture. The 369th received equal acclaim for its combat performance. Two soldiers of the 369th, Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, were the first American soldiers to receive the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross). The regiment served for 191 days and ceded no ground to German forces. They were the first American regiment to reach the Rhine River in Germany following the armistice and returned to the United States national heroes.

The 92nd Division, in comparison to the 93rd, had a much more harrowing experience. White army officials characterized black soldiers of the division as rapists and spread vicious lies among French civilians. African-American officers were particularly singled out for racist treatment because of their status. Viewed as a threat to white authority, many were unjustly transferred out of the division and others were court-martialed on bogus charges. Despite inadequate training and racial discrimination, the division as a whole fought well. However, one regiment, the 368th Infantry Regiment, performed poorly during the Allied Meuse-Argonne offensive in September 1918 and was used by the military to characterize all black soldiers and officers as complete failures. African-American soldiers would contest these slanderous charges well into the postwar period.

The rigors of combat and labor challenged black soldiers’ physical and emotional stamina. Nevertheless, service in France constituted a remarkable experience. African-American troops often interacted with North and West African soldiers serving in the French military, expanding their sense of diasporic belonging. Black soldiers received a warm welcome from French civilians, who, unlike white troops of the American army, exhibited little overt racism. “They treated us with respect,” one soldier recalled, “not like the white American soldiers.” These interactions further contributed to the image of France as a nation free of racial discrimination and uniquely committed to universal democratic rights. Travel and service in France expanded the boundaries of how black soldiers viewed the world and their place in it. Lemuel Moody, a soldier who served overseas, reflected that his experience was “altogether improving and broadening.…[It] changed my out look on life. I see things now with different eyes.”

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After the War

When the war ended on November 11, 1918, African Americans anxiously and optimistically hoped that their patriotic sacrifices would have a positive impact on race relations and expand the boundaries of civil rights. Political leaders attempted to exert influence on the Versailles peace proceedings. W. E. B. Du Bois organized a Pan-African Congress, held in Paris from February 19 to 21, 1919, which challenged the legitimacy of European colonialism. William Monroe Trotter of the Equal Rights League was so determined to reach Paris that, after being denied a passport by the State Department, he obtained passage as a cook and ultimately presented his case to the peace conference. International pressure was closely tied to the domestic expectations of African Americans. Homecoming parades for returning black soldiers, in the North and South, attracted thousands of people and signaled a determination to translate their service into social and political change.

On February 17, 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 250,000 onlookers. A spirit of determination, inspired by the war, surged throughout black America. Du Bois voiced such sentiment in the May 1919 Crisis editorial “Returning Soldiers,” declaring, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.”

African Americans were indeed forced to fight, quite literally, for their survival following the war. James Weldon Johnson characterized the bloody summer of 1919 as the Red Summer. Fears of labor unrest, “bolshevism” stemming from the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the return of black soldiers spawned a nationwide surge in violence, much of it directed at African Americans. Race riots erupted in several cities, the most significant occurring in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In October 1919, whites in Elaine, Arkansas, massacred hundreds of black people in response to the efforts of sharecroppers to organize themselves. In the South, the number of reported lynchings swelled from sixty-four in 1918 to eighty-three in 1919. At least eleven of these victims were returned soldiers. For African Americans, the end of the war brought anything but peace.

How African Americans responded to the postwar resurgence of white supremacy reflected the depths to which the aspirations of the war and expectations for democracy shaped their racial and political consciousness. The war radicalized many African Americans and deepened a commitment to combat white racial violence. At the same time, the contributions of the soldiers, as well as peoples of African descent more broadly, to the war effort swelled racial pride. Marcus Garvey tapped into this social, political, and cultural milieu. A native of Jamaica, Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era. A host of other radical organizations and newspapers complemented the UNIA and signaled the arrival of the “New Negro.”

The impact of World War I on African Americans often receives less attention than the effects of the Civil War and World War II. Because racial conditions failed to improve significantly after the war, it is often viewed as a disillusioning moment. To the contrary, World War I brought about tremendous change for African Americans and their place in American society. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of black communities in the North and the South. The war effort allowed black men and women to assert their citizenship, hold the government accountable, and protest racial injustice. Military service brought thousands of black men into the army, exposed them to new lands and new people, and allowed them to fight for their country. Black people staked claim to democracy as a highly personal yet deeply political ideal and demanded that the nation live up to its potential. World War I represents a turning point in African American history, one that shaped the course of the black experience in the twentieth century.

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Bibliography

Arnesen, Eric ed. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.

Barbeau, Arthur E. and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.

Brown, Nikki. Private Politics And Public Voices: Black Women’s Activism from World War I to the New Deal. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Ellis, Mark. Race, War and Surveillance Race, War, and Surveillance: African Americans and the United States Government during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Gregory, James N. The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Jordan, William G. Black Newspapers and America’s War for Democracy, 1914-1920. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 2001.

Kelly, Brian. Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Kornweibel, Theodore Jr. “Investigate Everything”: Federal Efforts to Compel Black Loyalty during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Levering Lewis, David. W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.

Harris, Stephen L. Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc., 2003.

Haynes, Robert V. A Night of Violence: The Houston Riot of 1917. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

Roberts, Frank E. The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93d in World War I. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Slotkin, Richard. Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

Woodruff, Nan Elizabeth. American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Image Gallery

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  • Moving North

    #1168439   <a href="photos/wwi/1168439.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922). Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Between 1914 and 1920, roughly 500,000 black southerners packed their bags and headed to the North, fundamentally transforming the social, cultural, and political landscape of cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.

    title=”Moving North #1168439 – Between 1914 and 1920, roughly 500,000 black southerners packed their bags and headed to the North, fundamentally transforming the social, cultural, and political landscape of cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.”

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  • Harlem, New York

    #1168424   <a href="photos/wwi/1168424.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    New York’s black population increased to 152,400 in 1920, from 91,700 in 1910; by the time the Great Migration was over in 1930, there were 327,700 black New Yorkers.

    title=”Harlem, New York #1168424 – New York’s black population increased to 152,400 in 1920, from 91,700 in 1910; by the time the Great Migration was over in 1930, there were 327,700 black New Yorkers.”

    >

  • Industrial Workers in Virginia

    #12313914   <a href="photos/wwi/1231391.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Miles V. Lynk, The Negro Pictorial Review (Memphis: Twentieth Century Art Co., 1919). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    African-American southerners were more likely than northern blacks to have been trained as skilled workers. However, because of union restrictions and discrimination, they did not always find jobs in their specialty and had to accept unskilled work.

    title=”Industrial Workers in Virginia #12313914 – African-American southerners were more likely than northern blacks to have been trained as skilled workers. However, because of union restrictions and discrimination, they did not always find jobs in their specialty and had to accept unskilled work.”

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  • Industrial Nights

    #DS_10scja   <a href="photos/wwi/DS_10scja.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographer: W. H. Bass. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Over 400,000 African Americans migrated from the South between 1916 and 1918, at an average rate of sixteen thousand per month, or five hundred per day. In urban centers, segregated "industrial nights" allowed men to find employment.

    title=”Industrial Nights #DS_10scja – Over 400,000 African Americans migrated from the South between 1916 and 1918, at an average rate of sixteen thousand per month, or five hundred per day. In urban centers, segregated "industrial nights" allowed men to find employment.”

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  • Workers Wanted

    #1231425   <a href="photos/wwi/1231425.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Chicago Defender, December 1, 1917. General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    World War I was a transformative moment in African-American history. Southerners often traveled long distances to northern industrial centers, where jobs were plentiful.

    title=”Workers Wanted #1231425 – World War I was a transformative moment in African-American history. Southerners often traveled long distances to northern industrial centers, where jobs were plentiful.”

    >

  • Violence and the Migration

    #1168431   <a href="photos/wwi/1168431.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Crisis, March 1920. General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Lynching continued in the United States even after African Americans returned from the Great War. The Chicago Urban League reported that after each lynching, the number of migrants arriving from the lynch area increased.

    title=”Violence and the Migration #1168431 – Lynching continued in the United States even after African Americans returned from the Great War. The Chicago Urban League reported that after each lynching, the number of migrants arriving from the lynch area increased.”

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  • Mississippi Lynching

    #1168432   <a href="photos/wwi/1168432.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Crisis, August 1919. General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    The Crisis headlines an announcement of an upcoming lynching in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Migration, military service, racial violence, and political protest combined to make the war years one of the most dynamic periods of the African-American experience.

    title=”Mississippi Lynching #1168432 – "The Crisis" headlines an announcement of an upcoming lynching in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Migration, military service, racial violence, and political protest combined to make the war years one of the most dynamic periods of the African-American experience.”

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  • A Glorious Desecration

    #1694962   <a href="photos/wwi/1694962.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Messenger, July 1919. General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    African Americans contested the boundaries of American democracy and demanded their rights as American citizens. With the Great Migration came more protests against the mistreatment of America’s black citizens.

    title=”A Glorious Desecration #1694962 – African Americans contested the boundaries of American democracy and demanded their rights as American citizens. With the Great Migration came more protests against the mistreatment of America’s black citizens.”

    >

  • Job Training

    #1953657   <a href="photos/wwi/1953657.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Job training at segregated training centers in northern cities provided African-American men with the skills to compete in the job market.

    title=”Job Training #1953657 – Job training at segregated training centers in northern cities provided African-American men with the skills to compete in the job market.”

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  • Women at Work

    #1168445   <a href="photos/wwi/1168445.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Jane Olcott, ed., The Work of Colored Women (New York: National Board of Young Women’s Christian Associations, 1919). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    World War I cut off European immigration and reduced the pool of available cheap labor. Employees could make three dollars a day at this northern packinghouse, compared to fifty cents picking cotton in the South.

    title=”Women at Work #1168445 – World War I cut off European immigration and reduced the pool of available cheap labor. Employees could make three dollars a day at this northern packinghouse, compared to fifty cents picking cotton in the South.”

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  • Convention of Colored Women’s Clubs

    #1169895   <a href="photos/wwi/1169895.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    John Taitt, Souvenir of Negro Progress: Chicago, 1779–1925 (Chicago: De Saible Assoc., 1925). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    African-American women contributed to the war effort in significant ways and formed the backbone of African-American patriotic activities. Clubwomen, many under the auspices of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), led "liberty loan" campaigns, held rallies, and provided crucial material and emotional support for black troops.

    title=”Convention of Colored Women’s Clubs #1169895 – African-American women contributed to the war effort in significant ways and formed the backbone of African-American patriotic activities. Clubwomen, many under the auspices of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), led "liberty loan" campaigns, held rallies, and provided crucial material and emotional support for black troops.”

    >

  • Y Opportunities

    #1169408   <a href="photos/wwi/1169408.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Black women joined war service organizations such as the YWCA and the Red Cross, as well as established their own groups, like the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), to meet the specific needs of black soldiers and to improve opportunities for themselves.

    title=”Y Opportunities #1169408 – Black women joined war service organizations such as the YWCA and the Red Cross, as well as established their own groups, like the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), to meet the specific needs of black soldiers and to improve opportunities for themselves.”

    >

  • Training Women

    #1260393   <a href="photos/wwi/1260393.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Young women receive clerical training in Chicago. Throughout the North prior to 1915, 80 percent of black working women were in domestic or personal service.

    title=”Training Women #1260393 – Young women receive clerical training in Chicago. Throughout the North prior to 1915, 80 percent of black working women were in domestic or personal service.”

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  • Segregation and Jobs

    #1168447   <a href="photos/wwi/1168447.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Kelly Miller and Joseph R. Gay, Progress and Achievements of the Colored People (Washington, D.C.: A. Jenkins, 1917). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Southern migrants found segregation in the North as well. Separate facilities were a humiliation as well as a source of economic strength in the community, because they enabled black-owned stores and other services to flourish. Schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other places that catered exclusively to African Americans provided skilled and professional jobs that were unavailable to them in white facilities. These nurses were able to work as professionals in a segregated hospital, whereas they would probably have found only domestic work in a white hospital.

    title=”Segregation and Jobs #1168447 – Southern migrants found segregation in the North as well. Separate facilities were a humiliation as well as a source of economic strength in the community, because they enabled black-owned stores and other services to flourish. Schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other places that catered exclusively to African Americans provided skilled and professional jobs that were unavailable to them in white facilities. These nurses were able to work as professionals in a segregated hospital, whereas they would probably have found only domestic work in a white hospital.”

    >

  • Women in Industry

    #1168444   <a href="photos/wwi/1168444.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Jane Olcott, ed., The Work of Colored Women (New York: National Board of Young Women’s Christian Associations, 1919). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    In World War I and later in World War II, black and white women were used to fill the posts vacated by men who went off to serve the nation.

    title=”Women in Industry #1168444 – In World War I and later in World War II, black and white women were used to fill the posts vacated by men who went off to serve the nation.”

    >

  • Women Aiding the War Effort

    #1206642   <a href="photos/wwi/1206642.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Kelly Miller, The History of the World War for Human Rights (Washington, D.C.: Austin Jenkins, 1919). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    A worker transports tanning bark, to be used for tanning leather products needed in the war effort. This photograph was originally titled Cheerfully Doing the Work Required.

    title=”Women Aiding the War Effort #1206642 – A worker transports tanning bark, to be used for tanning leather products needed in the war effort. This photograph was originally titled "Cheerfully Doing the Work Required"
    .”

    >

  • NAACP Silent Protest

    #1228870   <a href="photos/wwi/1228870.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    On July 28, 1917, more than eight thousand protesters solemnly marched down Fifth Avenue to the sound of muffled drums and holding signs, one of which read, MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY.

    title=”NAACP Silent Protest #1228870 – On July 28, 1917, more than eight thousand protesters solemnly marched down Fifth Avenue to the sound of muffled drums and holding signs, one of which read, MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY.”

    >

  • Trial of African-American Soldiers

    #1953553   <a href="photos/wwi/1953553.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographer: W. C. Lloyd. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Thirteen African-American soldiers were hanged and sixty-three sentenced to life imprisonment at the largest court-marital trial in U.S. military history, in Houston, Texas, November 1917.

    title=”Trial of African-American Soldiers #1953553 – Thirteen African-American soldiers were hanged and sixty-three sentenced to life imprisonment at the largest court-marital trial in U.S. military history, in Houston, Texas, November 1917.”

    >

  • Segregated Mail Facilities

    #22scja   <a href="photos/wwi/22scja.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Lacking basic mailing rights in the U.S. Army, black soldiers gather at a YMCA facility at Camp Travis, Texas, to send letters and bundles of their civilian clothing back home.

    title=”Segregated Mail Facilities #22scja – Lacking basic mailing rights in the U.S. Army, black soldiers gather at a YMCA facility at Camp Travis, Texas, to send letters and bundles of their civilian clothing back home.”

    >

  • Waiting to Ship Out – At the Movies

    #18scja   <a href="photos/wwi/18scja.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Waiting for overseas war assignments, soldiers attend a weekly segregated movie at Camp Travis, Texas.

    title=”Waiting to Ship Out – At the Movies #18scja – Waiting for overseas war assignments, soldiers attend a weekly segregated movie at Camp Travis, Texas.”

    >

  • Black Soldiers Ship Out

    #1953555   <a href="photos/wwi/1953555.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Soldiers board a ship for assignments overseas. President Wilson, a segregationist, maintained a racially separate military throughout the war.

    title=”Black Soldiers Ship Out #1953555 – Soldiers board a ship for assignments overseas. President Wilson, a segregationist, maintained a racially separate military throughout the war.”

    >

  • James Reese Europe in the USA

    #1953617   <a href="photos/wwi/1953617.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    One of America’s most popular bands, the Clef Club Company Orchestra, led by James Reese Europe, received enthusiastic reviews when they performed at Carnegie Hall and other well-known places in the United States.

    title=”James Reese Europe in the USA #1953617 – One of America’s most popular bands, the Clef Club Company Orchestra, led by James Reese Europe, received enthusiastic reviews when they performed at Carnegie Hall and other well-known places in the United States.”

    >

  • James Reese Europe’s String Octet 1916

    #1953618   <a href="photos/wwi/1953618.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Inducted into the U.S. Army in World War I, James Reese Europe was commissioned a lieutenant and named bandmaster of the 369th Infantry Band, a black regiment based in Harlem.

    title=”James Reese Europe’s String Octet 1916 #1953618 – Inducted into the U.S. Army in World War I, James Reese Europe was commissioned a lieutenant and named bandmaster of the 369th Infantry Band, a black regiment based in Harlem. ”

    >

  • Black Bands Tour

    #1239002   <a href="photos/wwi/1239002.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Addie W. Hunton and Kathryn M. Johnson, Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Eagle Press, 1920). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Black military bands, led by Lt. James Reese Europe, Bandmaster Oliver Mead, and others, traveled to many cities in France, spreading the popularity of black American music and musicians.

    title=”Black Bands Tour #1239002 – Black military bands, led by Lt. James Reese Europe, Bandmaster Oliver Mead, and others, traveled to many cities in France, spreading the popularity of black American music and musicians. ”

    >

  • Receiving Honors from France

    #1953554   <a href="photos/wwi/1953554.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Soldiers receive the Croix de Guerre, a prestigious military award of the French army. Since racist policies forbid African-American combat soldiers from carrying arms for the United States, thousands of black soldiers fought under the French flag.

    title=”Receiving Honors from France #1953554 – Soldiers receive the Croix de Guerre, a prestigious military award of the French army. Since racist policies forbid African-American combat soldiers from carrying arms for the United States, thousands of black soldiers fought under the French flag.”

    >

  • Private Joe Jones

    #1953550   <a href="photos/wwi/1953550.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    After World War I ended, returning African-American soldiers began to make political demands for an end to Jim Crow laws at home.

    title=”Private Joe Jones #1953550 – After World War I ended, returning African-American soldiers began to make political demands for an end to Jim Crow laws at home.”

    >

  • Private Eddie Riley

    #1953551   <a href="photos/wwi/1953551.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Black soldiers experienced many indignities after World War I, including not being allowed to celebrate the Allied victory. In Paris, the United States refused to allow any black American soldiers to march with other Allied soldiers, including colonial African troops, in the victory parade up the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day in 1919.

    title=”Private Eddie Riley #1953551 – Black soldiers experienced many indignities after World War I, including not being allowed to celebrate the Allied victory. In Paris, the United States refused to allow any black American soldiers to march with other Allied soldiers, including colonial African troops, in the victory parade up the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day in 1919.”

    >

  • Private Dave Kelly and Sgt. Richard Owens

    #1953552   <a href="photos/wwi/1953552.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    The U.S. Army assigned the vast majority of black soldiers to service units, reflecting a belief that black men were more suited for manual labor than combat duty. African- American combat soldiers, like those of the all-black 92nd and 93rd Divisions, fought under French command.

    title=”Private Dave Kelly and Sgt. Richard Owens #1953552 – The U.S. Army assigned the vast majority of black soldiers to service units, reflecting a belief that black men were more suited for manual labor than combat duty. African- American combat soldiers, like those of the all-black 92nd and 93rd Divisions, fought under French command.”

    >

  • Two Heroes

    #1229521   <a href="photos/wwi/1229521.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Kelly Miller, The History of the World War for Human Rights (Washington, D.C.: Austin Jenkins, 1919). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    On May 16, 1918, Privates Henry Johnson (left) and Needham Roberts (right) became the first American privates to receive the prestigious French Croix de Guerre.

    title=”Two Heroes #1229521 – On May 16, 1918, Privates Henry Johnson (left) and Needham Roberts (right) became the first American privates to receive the prestigious French Croix de Guerre.”

    >

  • Coming Home

    #1953549   <a href="photos/wwi/1953549.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographer: Paul Thompson

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Members of the 369th Harlem Hellfighters relax aboard ship as they return home after World War I. Having helped to win the war in Europe, all would soon resume the struggle for freedom at home.

    title=”Coming Home #1953549 – Members of the 369th Harlem Hellfighters relax aboard ship as they return home after World War I. Having helped to win the war in Europe, all would soon resume the struggle for freedom at home.”

    >

  • Home to Harlem

    #1953656   <a href="photos/wwi/1953656.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    On February 17, 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 250,000 onlookers. The regiment marched to the music of its band and leader, James Reese Europe.

    title=”Home to Harlem #1953656 – On February 17, 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 250,000 onlookers. The regiment marched to the music of its band and leader, James Reese Europe.”

    >

  • Economics and Politics

    #1694964   <a href="photos/wwi/1694964.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Messenger, November 1919. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    World War I represented a turning point in African-American history, shaping the course of the black experience in the twentieth century. The war effort allowed black men and women to assert their citizenship and begin to demand their rights as American citizens.
    The American Socialist Party campaigned heavily within the black community, often attracting black candidates for public office.

    title=”Economics and Politics #1694964 – World War I represented a turning point in African-American history, shaping the course of the black experience in the twentieth century. The war effort allowed black men and women to assert their citizenship and begin to demand their rights as American citizens.
    The American Socialist Party campaigned heavily within the black community, often attracting black candidates for public office.

    >

  • Competition for Jobs

    #1694963   <a href="photos/wwi/1694963.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    The Messenger, November 1919. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Black workers were often threatened, injured, or killed in their labor-organizing efforts. In October 1919, white mobs in Elaine, Arkansas, massacred hundreds of blacks who were attempting to organize sharecroppers.

    title=”Competition for Jobs #1694963 – Black workers were often threatened, injured, or killed in their labor-organizing efforts. In October 1919, white mobs in Elaine, Arkansas, massacred hundreds of blacks who were attempting to organize sharecroppers.”

    >

  • Union of Blacks and Whites

    #1694965   <a href="photos/wwi/1694965.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    Socialist "agitators" were blamed for union activities that attempted to bond black and white workers.

    title=”Union of Blacks and Whites #1694965 – Socialist "agitators" were blamed for union activities that attempted to bond black and white workers.”

    >

  • The American Negro Labor Congress

    #1168461   <a href="photos/wwi/1168461.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Scott Nearing, Black America (New York: Vanguard Press, 1929). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. Reproduced with permission from the Board of Directors, The Good Life Center.

    Established in 1925, the American Negro Labor Congress was a radical labor organization that remained in existence until 1930. "The American Negro Labor Congress stands for a militant and uncompromising struggle against all forms of white ruling class terrorism: lynchings, etc. against the attempts of the employers to set one group of workers against the other in order to continue more easily their exploitation of both black and white workers. The American Negro Labor Congress stands for the right of workers to organize for self-defense."

    title=”The American Negro Labor Congress #1168461 – Established in 1925, the American Negro Labor Congress was a radical labor organization that remained in existence until 1930. "The American Negro Labor Congress stands for a militant and uncompromising struggle against all forms of white ruling class terrorism: lynchings, etc. against the attempts of the employers to set one group of workers against the other in order to continue more easily their exploitation of both black and white workers. The American Negro Labor Congress stands for the right of workers to organize for self-defense."”

    >

  • Marcus Garvey in Regalia, 1924

    #497506   <a href="photos/wwi/497506.jpg"target="blank">View Printable Image</a>

    Photographer: James Van Der Zee. © Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

    A native of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York in 1916 and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African Diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era.

    title=”Marcus Garvey in Regalia, 1924 #497506 – A native of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York in 1916 and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African Diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era.”

    >

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