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Blacks and WWI - History

Blacks and WWI - History


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300,000 blacks served in the US armed forces during World War I. 1,400 served as officers.

African Americans In World War One

Initially, when World War One started, the US was involved in it. However, the African Americans saw the war as an opportunity to win respect in the society that was segregated and treated the African Americans as second class citizens. The African Americans, despite their treatment, were willing to serve their nation when it became clear that the US would be entering the war. Unfortunately, even then the military was turning them away.

In April 1917, when the US declared war against Germany, the planners at the War Department realized that their strength of soldiers was not sufficient to give the Americans a victory. Hence, on May 18th, 1917, the US Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all male US citizens from the age of 21 years to the age of 31 years to be drafted into the army. It is important to note that before the passing of the Act, African Americans were joining the army as a way to prove their patriotism and loyalty, so that they would get fair treatment in the country.

The US had 6 regiments of African American troops that were led by white officers. Then later on, in the year 1869, the regiments were organized into 4, namely the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry. However, once it was announced that the US would be taking part in the First World War, the War Department stopped accepting African American volunteers as the quota was filled up.

However, when the draft came into the scene, the African Americans were drafted. It was seen that though the African Americans comprised just 10 percent of the US population, 13 percent of the inductees were blacks. The US Army was discriminatory, but the extent was not as much as seen in other branches. The African Americans could not become Marines and the Navy and Coast Guards allowed the blacks to serve just in limited and menial positions. However, by the time World War One ended, African Americans were in the cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, artillery and engineer units. In addition, they were working as intelligence officers, surveyors, chaplains, chemists and truck drivers.

Unfortunately, very few African Americans worked in combat units, as majority of them were relegated to labor battalions. The 4 African American regiments were not deployed overseas. This resulted in the African Americans protesting, which led to the War Department forming the 92nd and 93rd Divisions in the year 1917 as combat units for African Americans. With the creation of these combat units, the War Department started looking for African American officers and this led to a segregated but equal training camp for officers. Fort Des Moines became the training camp for African American officers in the year 1917 and about 1,970 blacks attended the training camp. Out of these 250 were already non commissioned officers, while the remaining were civilians. Soon after the training was over and the cadets commissioned, the Des Moines camp was shut down. Thereafter, African Americans were sent to Puerto Rico, Panama, Hawaii and the Philippines for training.

Once the African Americans soldiers were sent to Europe, they worked very hard. They were responsible for unloading ships and then transporting materials to bases, ports and railroad depots. As the war progressed, the African American labor units were given the responsibility of digging trenches, burying the dead, removing unexploded shells, clearing barbed wires and equipment that was no longer functional.

The African American combat units did not have a bond or cohesion as the men trained separately, and this would explain why the Meuse Argonne campaign did not go well for the units. While the American Army did not think much about the African American combat units, the French decorated the soldiers belonging to 365th Infantry and 350th Machine Gun Battalion for their bravery and aggressiveness.

When armistice occurred on 11th November 1918, the African American soldiers celebrated just like all other soldiers in their victory. They thought that would be greeted as heroes on returning to their country. However, this was not to be. But this did not stop the African Americans from enlisting in the military.

The first alliance in World War One was the Triple Alliance that took place between Germany, Italy and the Austro-Hungary Empire. Then there was an alliance between the French and the Russians, but this did not last for long. The alliance between France and Russia had economical reasons behind it. However, the Russians got angry with the Germans after the Congress of Berlin and this led to the alliance breaking. More..


Black Codes and Jim Crow

The first steps toward official segregation came in the form of 𠇋lack Codes.” These were laws passed throughout the South starting around 1865, that dictated most aspects of Black peoples’ lives, including where they could work and live. The codes also ensured Black people’s availability for cheap labor after slavery was abolished.

Segregation soon became official policy enforced by a series of Southern laws. Through so-called Jim Crow laws (named after a derogatory term for Blacks), legislators segregated everything from schools to residential areas to public parks to theaters to pools to cemeteries, asylums, jails and residential homes. There were separate waiting rooms for whites people and Black people in professional offices and, in 1915, Oklahoma became the first state to even segregate public phone booths.

Colleges were segregated and separate Black institutions like Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee were created to compensate. Virginia’s Hampton Institute was established in 1869 as a school for Black youth, but with white instructors teaching skills to relegate Black people in service positions to whites.


Black History Timeline: 1910–1919

Like the previous decade, Black Americans continue to fight against racial injustice. Using various methods of protest—writing editorials, publishing news, literary and scholarly journals, and organizing peaceful protests—they begin to expose the ills of segregation not only to the United States but the world.

Keystone / Staff / Getty Images

According to U.S. Census data, Black Americans number almost 10 million, almost 11% of the United States' population. About 90% of Black Americns live in the South, but large numbers will begin migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions.

September 29: The National Urban League is established in New York City. The purpose of the NUL is to help Black Americans find jobs and housing. As the league describes on its website, its mission is:

The NUL will grow to 90 affiliates serving 300 communities in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

November: The NAACP publishes the first issue of Crisis. W.E.B. Du Bois becomes the monthly magazine's first editor-in-chief. The magazine covers events such as the Great Migration. By 1919, the magazine grows to an estimated monthly circulation of 100,000.

Throughout the United States, local ordinances are established to segregate neighborhoods. Baltimore, Dallas, Louisville, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Roanoke, and St. Louis establish such ordinances separating Black and White neighborhoods.

January 5: Kappa Alpha Psi, an African American fraternity, is founded by 10 students at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. According to the university's website:

November 17: Omega Psi Phi is established at Howard University "by undergraduate students Edgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper, and Frank Coleman in the office of their faculty advisor, biology Professor Ernest E. Just," according to the university's website. "Manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift" are adopted as the group's cardinal principles during its first meeting in Just's office in the Science Hall (now known as Thirkield Hall), notes the fraternity's website.

More than 60 Black Americans are lynched this year, part of a larger violent trend in the U.S., as there are nearly 5,000 lynchings throughout the country between 1882 and 1968, mainly of Black men.

September 12: W.C. Handy publishes "Memphis Blues" in Memphis. Known as the "Father of the Blues," Handy changes the course of American popular music with the publication of the song, which brings African American folk tradition into mainstream music and influences later Blues greats such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Koko Taylor, notes the Library of Congress.

Claude McKay publishes two collections of poetry, "Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads." One of the most prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay uses themes such as Black pride, alienation, and desire for assimilation in his works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction throughout his career.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

September 22–27: The 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated. The Library of Congress to this day has an item called, a "Souvenir and official program, fifty years of freedom: September 22, 1862-September 22, 1912 national jubilee in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation proclamation, September 22 to 27, 1912, Washington, D.C." It is part of the library's African American Perspectives in its Rare Book Collection and was given to the institution by Daniel Murray, a Black man and assistant librarian at the LOC who helped to establish what was called the "Colored Authors' Collection" though a donation of 1,100 books and artifacts from Black American writers.

January 13: Delta Sigma Theta, a Black sorority, is established at Howard University. The date, says the university on its website:

Woodrow Wilson's administration establishes federal segregation. Across the United States, federal work environments, lunch areas, and restrooms are segregated. Wilson even throws William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office when the civil rights leader comes to discuss the issue with the president on November 12, notes The Atlantic. A century later, students at Princeton University, where Wilson also served as president, will protest how the school has honored him in light of his racist legacy.

African American newspapers such as the California Eagle begin campaigns to protest the portrayal of Black people in D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." As a result of editorials and articles published in Black newspapers, the film is banned in many communities throughout the United States.

The Apollo Theater is founded in New York City. Benjamin Hurtig and Harry Seamon obtain a 31-year lease on the newly constructed, neo-classical theater, designed by George Keister, calling it Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque. African Americans are not allowed to attend as patrons or to perform in the theater's early years, as is the case with most U.S. theaters at the time. The theater would close in 1933 after New York City's future Mayor Fiorello La Guardia begins a campaign against burlesque. It reopens a year later, in 1934, under new ownership, as the Apollo.

Mark Reinstein / Getty Images

June 21: The Oklahoma Grandfather Clause is overturned in Guinn v. the United States. In its unanimous opinion, delivered by Chief Justice C.J. White, the court rules that Oklahoma’s grandfather clause—having been written in a way to serve “no rational purpose” other than to deny Black American citizens the right to vote—violates the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

September 9: Carter G. Woodson establishes the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. That same year, Woodson also publishes "The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861." During his lifetime, Woodson works to establish the field of Black American history in the early 1900s and contributes numerous books and publications to the field of Black research.

The NAACP proclaims that "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is the African American national anthem. The song was written and composed by two brothers, James Weldon and Rosamond Johnson. The opening lines of the song, first performed on February 12, 1900, as part of the celebration of President Abraham Lincoln's birthday, proclaim:

November 14: Booker T. Washington dies. He had been a prominent Black educator, and author, who having been enslaved from birth, rose to a position of power and influence, founding the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881 and overseeing its growth into a well-respected Black university.

A&E Television Networks / Wikimedia Commons

In January: Woodson's ANSLH publishes the first scholarly journal dedicated to Black American History. The publication is called the Journal of Negro History.

In March: Marcus Garvey establishes the New York branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The organization's goals include the founding of colleges for general and vocational education, promotion of business ownership, and encouragement of a sense of brotherhood among the African diaspora.

James Weldon Johnson becomes field secretary for the NAACP. In this position, Johnson organizes mass demonstrations against racism and violence. He also increases the NAACP's membership rolls in southern states, an action that would set the stage for the civil rights movement decades later.

Underwood & Underwood / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

April 6: When the United States enters World War I, an estimated 370,000 Black Americans join the armed forces. More than half serve in the French war zone and more than 1,000 Black officers command troops. As a result, 107 Black soldiers are awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government.

July 1: The East St. Louis Race Riot begins. When the two-day riot is over, an estimated 40 people are killed, several hundred are hurt, and thousands are displaced from their homes.

July 28: The NAACP organizes a silent march in response to lynchings, race riots, and social injustice. Considered the first major civil rights demonstration of the 20th Century, almost 10,000 Black Americans participate.

In August: The Messenger is established by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. According to the website BlackPast:

In July: Three Black and two White people are killed in the Chester, Pennsylvania, race riot. Within days, another race riot erupts in Philadelphia, killing three Black people and one White resident.

February 20: "The Homesteader" is released in Chicago. It is the first film to be produced by Oscar Micheaux. For the next 40 years, Micheaux will become one of the most prominent Black filmmakers by producing and directing 24 silent films and 19 sound films.

In March: Claude A. Barnett founds the Associated Negro Press on Chicago's South Side and remains its director for half a century, until its closure in 1967. According to the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, The ANP becomes the largest and longest-lived Black news service, supplying 150 Black newspapers in the United States—and another 100 in Africa—with opinion columns, reviews of books, movies, records, and poetry, cartoons, and photographs.

In April: The pamphlet, "Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1898–1918" is published by the NAACP. The report is used to appeal to lawmakers to end the social, political, and economic terrorism associated with lynching. During this year alone, 83 Black people are lynched—many of them soldiers returning home from World War I—and the Ku Klux Klan is operating out of 27 states.

May–October: Several race riots erupt in cities throughout the United States. Johnson names these race riots as the Red Summer of 1919. In response, Claude McKay publishes the poem, "If We Must Die."

The Peace Mission Movement is established by Father Divine in Sayville, New York. Peace Mission facilities, called "heavens," will spread across the country in the coming decades. They are interracial communal living facilities that foster the belief in a desegregated society.


FIGHTING FOR RESPECT: African-American Soldiers in WWI

As the people of the United States watched World War I ignite across Europe, African American citizens saw an opportunity to win the respect of their white neighbors. America was a segregated society and African Americans were considered, at best, second class citizens. Yet despite that, there were many African American men willing to serve in the nation’s military, but even as it became apparent that the United States would enter the war in Europe, blacks were still being turned away from military service.

When the United States declared war against Germany in April of 1917, War Department planners quickly realized that the standing Army of 126,000 men would not be enough to ensure victory overseas. The standard volunteer system proved to be inadequate in raising an Army, so on 18 May 1917 Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for the draft. Even before the act was passed, African American males from all over the country eagerly joined the war effort. They viewed the conflict as an opportunity to prove their loyalty, patriotism, and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States.

Following the Civil War, the Army disbanded volunteer “colored” regiments, and established six Regular Army regiments of black troops with white officers. In 1869, the infantry regiments were reorganized into the 24th and 25th Infantry. The two cavalry regiments, the 9th and 10th, were retained. These regiments were posted in the West and Southwest where they were heavily engaged in the Indian War. During the Spanish-American War, all four regiments saw service.

When World War I broke out, there were four all-black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. The men in these units were considered heroes in their communities. Within one week of Wilson’s declaration of war, the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers because the quotas for African Americans were filled.

When it came to the draft, however, there was a reversal in usual discriminatory policy. Draft boards were comprised entirely of white men. Although there were no specific segregation provisions outlined in the draft legislation, blacks were told to tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separately. Now instead of turning blacks away, the draft boards were doing all they could to bring them into service, southern draft boards in particular. One Georgia county exemption board discharged forty-four percent of white registrants on physical grounds and exempted only three percent of black registrants based on the same requirements. It was fairly common for southern postal workers to deliberately withhold the registration cards of eligible black men and have them arrested for being draft dodgers. African American men who owned their own farms and had families were often drafted before single white employees of large planters. Although comprising just ten percent of the entire United States population, blacks supplied thirteen percent of inductees.

While still discriminatory, the Army was far more progressive in race relations than the other branches of the military. Blacks could not serve in the Marines, and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard. By the end of World War I, African Americans served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers.

Although technically eligible for many positions in the Army, very few blacks got the opportunity to serve in combat units. Most were limited to labor battalions. The combat elements of the U.S. Army were kept completely segregated. The four established all-black Regular Army regiments were not used in overseas combat roles but instead were diffused throughout American held territory. There was such a backlash from the African American community, however, that the War Department finally created the 92d and 93d Divisions, both primarily black combat units, in 1917.

With the creation of African American units also came the demand for African-American officers. The War Department thought the soldiers would be more likely to follow men of their own color, thereby reducing the risk of any sort of uprising. Most leaders of the African American community agreed, and it was decided that the Army would create a segregated, but supposedly equal, officer training camp. In May 1917, Fort Des Moines opened its doors to black officer-trainees. Approximately 1,250 men attended the camp in Des Moines, Iowa.

Two hundred fifty of those men were already noncommissioned officers, and the rest were civilians. The average man attending the camp only had to have a high school education, and only twelve percent scored above average in the classification tests given by the Army.

Run by then LTC Charles C. Ballou, the fort’s staff of twelve West Point graduates, and a few noncommissioned officers from the four original all-black regiments put the candidates through a rigorous training routine. They practiced drilling with and without arms, signaling, physical training, memorizing the organization of the regiment, reading maps, and training on the rifle and bayonet. However, as Ballou noted after the war, the men doing the training did not take the job very seriously, and seemed to consider the school, and the candidates, a waste of time. Consequently, the War Department determined that the instruction at Fort Des Moines was poor and inadequate. Also adding to the poor training was the fact that no one knew exactly what to expect in France, so it was difficult to train as precisely as was needed.

On 15 October 1917, 639 African-American men received their commissions as either captain or first or second lieutenant, and were assigned to infantry, artillery, and engineer units with the 92d Division. This was to be the first and only class to graduate from Fort Des Moines the War Department shut it down soon after their departure. Future black candidates attended either special training camps in Puerto Rico (from which 433 officers graduated), the Philippines, Hawaii, and Panama, or regular officer training facilities in the United States .

The Army had no written policy on what to do if an officer training camp became integrated, so each camp was allowed to decide for itself the manner in which the integration was executed. Some were completely segregated and others allowed for blacks and whites to train together. Over 700 additional black officers graduated from these camps, bringing the total number to 1,353.

Although African Americans were earning higher positions in the Army, that did not necessarily mean they were getting equal treatment. Black draftees were treated with extreme hostility when they arrived for training. White men refused to salute black officers and black officers were often barred from the officer’s clubs and quarters. The War Department rarely interceded, and discrimination was usually overlooked or sometimes condoned. Because many Southern civilians protested having blacks from other states inhabit nearby training camps, the War Department stipulated that no more than one-fourth of the trainees in any Army camp in the U.S. could be African American.

Even when integrated into fairly progressive camps, black soldiers were often treated badly and sometimes went for long periods without proper clothing. There were also reports of blacks receiving old Civil War uniforms and being forced to sleep outside in pitched tents instead of warmer, sturdier barracks. Some were forced to eat outside in the winter months, while others went without a change of clothes for months at a time. Not all black soldiers suffered treatment like this, however, as those who were lucky enough to train at newly erected National Army cantonments lived in comfortable barracks and had sanitary latrines, hot food, and plenty of clothes.

The first black troops sent overseas belonged to service units. Because the work that these units did was absolutely invaluable to the war effort, commanders promised special privileges in return for high-yield results. With such motivation, the soldiers would often work for twenty-four hours straight unloading ships and transporting men and materiel to and from various bases, ports, and railroad depots. As the war continued and soldiers took to the battlefields, black labor units became responsible for digging trenches, removing unexploded shells from fields, clearing disabled equipment and barbed wire, and burying soldiers killed in action. Despite all the hard and essential work they provided, African American stevedores received the worst treatment of all black troops serving in World War I.

Although not nearly as respected as any of the white soldiers involved in the war effort, African American combat troops, in many respects, were much better off than the laborers. The two combat divisions–the 92d and 93d Divisions–had two completely different experiences while fighting the Great War.

The 92d Division was created in October 1917 and put under the command of BG Charles C. Ballou, who had organized the first African American officer candidate school. Organized in a manner similar to the other American divisions, the 92d was made up of four infantry regiments, three field artillery regiments, a trench mortar battery, three machine gun battalions, a signal battalion, an engineer regiment, an engineer train, and various support units.

Although in no case did a black officer command a white officer, most of the officers (up to the rank of first lieutenant) in the unit were African American. Unlike just about every other American unit training to go into battle, soldiers from the 92d were forced to train separately while in the United States. The War Department, fearing racial uprisings, was willing to sacrifice the unit’s ability to develop cohesion and pride. The lack of a strong bond between the men was one of the factors that led to the unit’s poor performance in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

The personal animosity between LTG Robert Bullard, commander of the American Second Army, and BG Ballou was another problem. Bullard was not only a staunch racist, but he also had a rivalry going with BG Ballou. In order to make both Ballou and the black soldiers appear completely incompetent, Bullard spread misinformation about the successes and failures of the 92d.

Even COL Allen J. Greer, Ballou’s chief of staff, was in on the plan to sabotage the reputation of his African American unit, and helped put a negative twist on stories from the front lines. Regardless of how well the 92d Division actually did on the battlefield, it was virtually impossible to overcome the slander from prejudiced officers.

Following some initial successes in Lorraine in mid-August, on 20 September 1918, the 92d was ordered to proceed to the Argonne Forest in preparation for the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The division reached the front lines just before the first assault. The 368th Infantry Regiment immediately received orders to fill a gap between the American 77th Division and the French 37th Division. However, due to their lack of training with the French, shortages of equipment, and unfamiliarity with the terrain, the regiment did not successfully complete this important assignment. The failure to accomplish this crucial mission blemished the 92d’s combat record, and it was often used by military authorities for more than thirty years to prove the inadequacy of African American soldiers in combat.

After the disaster in the Argonne, the entire division was sent to a relatively quiet area of the front in the Marbache sector. Their primary mission was nevertheless a dangerous one: harass the enemy with frequent patrols. The danger of the assignment was reflected in the 462 casualties sustained in just the first month of patrolling. Although American commanders were dissatisfied with the unit’s performance, the French obviously had a different opinion–they decorated members of the 365th Infantry and 350th Machine Gun Battalion for their aggressiveness and bravery.

By late 1918, the German Army was in full retreat, the Allied Commander in Chief, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, wanted to apply heavy pressure for a decisive breakthrough and defeat. The 92d was ordered to take the heights east of Champney, France, on 10 November 1918. Although only lasting one day, the attack was fierce and bloody, costing the division over 500 casualties.

As the 92d Division struggled to clear its reputation, the 93d Division had a much more successful experience. Commanded by BG Roy Hoffman, the 93d Division was also organized in December 1917. Unlike other American infantry divisions, the 93d was limited to four infantry regiments, three of which were comprised of National Guard units from New York, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and Tennessee. Being made up of mostly draftees and National Guardsmen, the 93d lacked any sort of consistency in its experience or composition. The unit also lacked its full number of combat units and support elements, and as a result never attained full divisional strength. Seeming to have odds stacked against it, the 93d fared remarkably well when faced with battle.

National Archives

The situation was desperate in France, and with exhausted and dwindling armies, the French begged the United States for men. GEN John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, promised them four American regiments. He decided to give them the regiments of the 93d Division since the French, who had used French colonial troops from Senegal, had experience in employing black soldiers in combat. The first African American combat troops to set foot on French soil belonged to the 93d Division. Armed, organized, and equipped as a French unit, the 93d quickly adjusted to their new assignment. Although experiencing some difficulties like language problems, the black soldiers were treated as equals.

The 369th Infantry was the first regiment of the 93d Division to reach France. They arrived in the port city of Brest in December 1917. On 10 March, after three months of duty with the Services of Supply, the 369th received orders to join the French 16th Division in Givry en Argonne for additional training. After three weeks the regiment was sent to the front lines in a region just west of the Argonne Forest. For nearly a month they held their position against German assaults, and after only a brief break from the front, the 369th was placed once again in the middle of the German offensive, this time at Minacourt, France. From 18 July to 6 August 1918, the 369th Infantry, now proudly nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” proved their tenacity once again by helping the French 161st Division drive the Germans from their trenches during the Aisne-Marne counter-offensive.

In this three-week period, the Germans were making many small night raids into Allied territory. During one of these raids, a member of the 369th Infantry, CPL Henry Johnson, fought off an entire German raiding party using only a pistol and a knife. Killing four of the Germans and wounding many more, his actions allowed a wounded comrade to escape capture and led to the seizure of a stockpile of German arms. Johnson and his comrade were wounded and both received the French Croix de Guerre for their gallantry. Johnson was also promoted to sergeant.

From 26 September to 5 October, the 369th participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and continued to fight well throughout the remainder of the war. The regiment fought in the front lines for a total of 191 days, five days longer than any other regiment in the AEF. France awarded the entire unit the Croix de Guerre, along with presenting 171 individual awards for exceptional gallantry in action.

National Guard Heritage Series.

Although the 369th won much of the glory for the 93d Division, the 370th, 371st, and 372d Regiments, each assigned to different French divisions, also proved themselves worthy of acclaim at the front. The 370th fought hard in both the Meuse-Argonne and Oise-Aisne campaigns. Seventy-one members of the regiment received the French Croix de Guerre, and another twenty-one soldiers received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Company C, 371st Infantry, earned the Croix de Guerre with Palm. The 371st Regiment spent more than three months on the front lines in the Verdun area, and for its extraordinary service in the Champagne offensive, the entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm. In addition, three of the 371st’s officers were awarded the French Legion of Honor, 123 men won the Croix de Guerre, and twenty-six earned the DSC.

The 372d Infantry also performed admirably during the American assault in Champagne, and afterwards assisted in the capture of Monthois. It was there the regiment faced strong resistance and numerous counterattacks, resulting in many instances of hand-to-hand combat. In less than two weeks of front line service, the 372d suffered 600 casualties. The regiment earned a unit Croix de Guerre with Palm, and in addition, forty-three officers, fourteen noncommissioned officers, and 116 privates received either the Croix de Guerre or the DSC.

On 11 November 1918 at 1100, the armistice between the Allies and Central Powers went into effect. Like all other American soldiers, the African American troops reveled in celebration and took justifiable pride in the great victory they helped achieve. It was not without great cost: the 92d Division suffered 1,647 battle casualties and the 93d Division suffered 3,534. Expecting to come home heroes, black soldiers received a rude awakening upon their return. Back home, many whites feared that African Americans would return demanding equality and would try to attain it by employing their military training. As the troops returned, there was an increase of racial tension. During the summer and fall of 1919, anti-black race riots erupted in twenty-six cities across America. The lynching of blacks also increased from fifty-eight in 1918 to seventy-seven in 1919. At least ten of those victims were war veterans, and some were lynched while in uniform. Despite this treatment, African American men continued to enlist in the military, including veterans of World War I that came home to such violence and ingratitude. They served their county in the brief period of peace after the World War I, and many went on to fight in World War II. It was not until the 1948 that President Harry S Truman issued an executive order to desegregate the military, although it took the Korean War to fully integrate the Army. African Americans finally began to receive the equal treatment their predecessors had earned in combat in France during World War I, and as far back as the American Revolution.

For more reading on African American soldiers in WWI, please see: The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in WWI by Arthur E. Barbeau & Florette Henri, The Right to Fight: A History of African-Americans in the Military, by Gerald Astor and Soldiers of Freedom, by Kai Wright.


The Racist Legacy of Woodrow Wilson

Students at Princeton University are protesting the ways it honors the former president, who once threw a civil-rights leader out of the White House.

The Black Justice League, in protests on Princeton University’s campus, has drawn wider attention to an inconvenient truth about the university’s ultimate star: Woodrow Wilson. The Virginia native was racist, a trait largely overshadowed by his works as Princeton’s president, as New Jersey’s governor, and, most notably, as the 28th president of the United States.

As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. It’s a shameful side to his legacy that came to a head one fall afternoon in 1914 when he threw the civil-rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office.

Trotter led a delegation of blacks to meet with the president on November 12, 1914, to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Trotter, today largely forgotten, was a nationally prominent civil-rights leader and newspaper editor. In the early 1900s, he was often mentioned in the same breath as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. But unlike Washington, Trotter, an 1895 graduate of Harvard, believed in direct protest actions. In fact, Trotter founded his Boston newspaper, The Guardian, as a vehicle to challenge Washington’s more conciliatory approach to civil rights.

Before Trotter’s confrontation with Wilson in the Oval Office, he was a political supporter of Wilson’s. He had pledged black support for Wilson’s presidential run when the two met face-to-face in July 1912 at the State House in Trenton, New Jersey. Even though then-Governor Wilson offered only vague promises about seeking fairness for all Americans, Trotter apparently came away smitten. “The governor had us draw our chairs right up around him, and shook hands with great cordiality,’’ he wrote a friend later. “When we left he gave me a long handclasp, and used such a pleased tone that I was walking on air.” Trotter viewed Wilson as the lesser of other political evils.

The civil-rights leader was soon having second thoughts. In the fall of 1913, he and other civil-rights leaders, including Ida B. Wells, met with Wilson to express dismay over Jim Crow. Trotter’s wife, Deenie, had even drawn a chart showing which federal offices had begun separating workers by race. Wilson sent them off with vague assurances.

In the next year, segregation did not improve it worsened. By this time, numerous instances of workplace separation became well publicized. Among them, separate toilets in the U.S. Treasury and the Interior Department, a practice that Wilson’s Treasury secretary, William G. McAdoo, defended: “I am not going to argue the justification of the separate toilets orders, beyond saying that it is difficult to disregard certain feelings and sentiments of white people in a matter of this sort.”

For blacks—who ever since Lincoln’s War had expected some measure of equity from the federal government—the sense of a betrayal ran deep.

Trotter sought a follow-up meeting with the president. “Last year he told the delegation he would seek a solution,’’ he wrote a supporter in the fall of 1914. “Having waited 11 months, we are entitled to an audience to learn what it is. Not only for the sake of his administration but as a matter of common justice.” Of course, the president’s plate was full.

Wilson might have bumbled, and worse, on civil rights, but he was overseeing implementation of a “New Freedom” in the nation’s economy—his campaign promise to restore competition and fair-labor practices, and to enable small businesses crushed by industrial titans to thrive once again. In September 1914, for example, he had created the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers against price-fixing and other anticompetitive business practices, and shortly after signed into law the Clayton Antitrust Act. He continued monitoring the so-called European War, resisting pressure to enter but moving to strengthen the nation’s armed forces. In addition to attending to the state’s affairs, Wilson was in mourning: His wife, Ellen, had died on August 6 from liver disease. On November 6, one of his advisers noted in his diary that the president had told him “he was broken in spirit by Mrs. Wilson’s death.”

Eventually, Wilson agreed to meet a second time with Trotter, and on November 12 the persistent editor and a contingent of Trotterites entered the Oval Office for their long-sought, long-awaited follow-up meeting. Trotter came prepared with a statement and launched the meeting by reading it.

Trotter began with a reference to their 1913 meeting and to the petition he had presented, containing 20,000 signatures “from thirty-eight states protesting against the segregation of employees of the national government.” He listed the on-the-job race separation that had gone unchecked since—at eating tables, dressing rooms, restrooms, lockers, and “especially public toilets in government buildings.” He then charged that the color line was drawn in the Treasury Department, in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Navy Department, the Interior Department, the Marine Hospital, the War Department, and in the Sewing and Printing Divisions of the Government Printing Office. Trotter also noted the political support he and other civil-rights activists had provided to Wilson. “Only two years ago you were heralded as perhaps the second Lincoln, and now the Afro-American leaders who supported you are hounded as false leaders and traitors to their race,” he said. And then he reminded the president of his pledge to assist “colored fellow citizens” in “advancing the interest of their race in the United States,” and ended by posing a question that contained a jab at Wilson’s much-ballyhooed economic-reform program. “Have you a ‘New Freedom’ for white Americans and a new slavery for your Afro-American fellow citizens? God forbid!”

The meeting quickly turned sour. The president told Trotter what he previously admitted in private—that he viewed segregation in his federal agencies as a benefit to blacks. Wilson said that his cabinet officers “were seeking, not to put the Negro employees at a disadvantage but . to make arrangements which would prevent any kind of friction between the white employees and the Negro employees.” Trotter found the claim astonishing, and immediately disagreed, calling Jim Crow in federal offices humiliating and degrading to black workers. But Wilson dug in. “My question would be this: If you think that you gentlemen, as an organization, and all other Negro citizens of this country, that you are being humiliated, you will believe it. If you take it as a humiliation, which it is not intended as, and sow the seed of that impression all over the country, why the consequence will be very serious,” he said.

Trotter was incredulous that the president didn’t seem to understand that separating workers based on race “must be a humiliation. It creates in the minds of others that there is something the matter with us—that we are not their equals, that we are not their brothers, that we are so different that we cannot work at a desk beside them, that we cannot eat at a table beside them, that we cannot go into the dressing room where they go, that we cannot use a locker beside them.” There was no letup. In his comments, Trotter had accused the president of lying by saying that race prejudice was the sole motivation for Jim Crow and that to assert otherwise, to claim his administration sought to protect blacks from “friction,” was ridiculous. “We are sorely disappointed that you take the position that the separation itself is not wrong, is not injurious, is not rightly offensive to you,” Trotter said.

Wilson interrupted Trotter: “Your tone, sir, offends me.” To the entire delegation, he said, “I want to say that if this association comes again, it must have another spokesman,” declaring no one had ever come into his office and insulted him as Trotter had. “You have spoiled the whole cause for which you came,” he told The Guardian editor dismissively.

But Trotter would not be dismissed he was not one to find being surrounded by white people, and the trappings of power either alien or intimidating. He had been the only black in his class at Hyde Park High School outside Boston (where, regardless, he had been elected class president) and, at Harvard, outperformed most white classmates, some of whom had since become governors, congressmen, rich, and famous. Instead, he tried to steer the meeting back on track. “I am pleading for simple justice,” he said. “If my tone has seemed so contentious, why my tone has been misunderstood.” He said they needed to work this out, given that he and other African American leaders had supported Wilson’s presidential run at the polls.

But Wilson was angry, stating that bringing up politics and citing black voting power was a form of blackmail. The meeting, which had lasted nearly an hour, was abruptly over. The delegation was shown the door—essentially thrown out. When the incensed Trotter ran into reporters milling around Tumulty’s office, he began letting off steam. “What the President told us was entirely disappointing.”

The story about the dustup between the president and the Guardian editor went viral. The New York Times’s front-page story was headlined, “President Resents Negro’s Criticism” while the front-page headline in the New York Press read: “Wilson Rebukes Negro Who ‘Talks Up’ to Him.” But the larger point was that his tough-talking landed Trotter back on front pages everywhere.

Wilson realized almost instantly his error—unfortunately, not the error of his racism, but the error in public relations. He had “played the fool,’’ he told a cabinet member afterward, by becoming unnerved in the face of what he considered Trotter’s impertinence. “When the Negro delegate (Trotter) threatened me, I was a damn fool enough to lose my temper and point him to the door. What I ought to have done would have been to listened, restrained my resentment, and, when they had finished, to have said to them that, of course, their petition receive consideration. They would then have withdrawn quietly and no more would have been heard about the matter.’’


Activity 1. The 92nd Division

Model for the class the activity they are about to complete. Share the handout "What They Say About the 92nd: Selected Quotes" on pages 1-2 of the Master PDF. The quotes represent examples of statements students may encounter some are quite specific, while others are more general. Spend only enough time on each to help students understand how to approach such material. Discuss:

  • What the quote says.
  • How the content might have been affected by bias.
  • Potential sources of bias.
  • Ways in which the four statements agree with and contradict one another.

Can we come to understand how participants "construct" their own experiences of events? Can we locate sources to support or contradict their perceptions? Can we determine how the 92nd Division performed in combat? Can we understand the factors affecting their performance? Students will explore these issues in small groups.

Divide the class into eight groups. Download, copy, and distribute to students the handout "The 92nd Division" on page 3 of the Master PDF. It provides basic background information on the 92nd Division, listing the units in each division, enabling students to identify by number the regiments, battalions, and batteries composing the 92nd. Students can refer to it as necessary when they are completing the activity below.

Each student group will be assigned one of the following sources to scout for information. By dividing up the research, the class will eventually become familiar with a variety of sources. As any one source could have a particular bias, students will be better able to judge the information and arrive at a conclusion about the 92nd when they share all the information.

  • Four groups can each scrutinize a relevant chapter from Scott’s Official History of The American Negro in the World War on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Great War Primary Documents Archive. According to African American Odyssey: World War I and Postwar Society, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, "Emmett J. Scott worked for eighteen years as the private secretary to Booker T. Washington. He became a Special Assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker during World War I in order to oversee the recruitment, training, and morale of the African American soldiers. (His) ‘profusely illustrated’ 512-page volume gives a ‘complete and authentic narration … of the participation of American soldiers of the Negro race in the World War for democracy,’ and a ‘full account of the war work organizations of colored men and women.’" His work was published in 1919 and is filled with firsthand accounts.
  • One group can read accounts from eyewitnesses, in full or in part, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Great War Primary Documents Archive.

If desired, groups can compile a summary of their research and findings based on the questions in the handout "Research Questions: The 92nd Division" on page 4 of the Master PDF.

Student groups should now share their information with the entire class. Allow time after all the information has been shared for students to ask questions of each other. Then, give the groups time to meet again and compose a position statement on what can be learned from the first-hand sources, given their contradictions.

If desired, each group can then share its position statement and the most compelling evidence supporting it. Another option is to proceed with Assessment.


The Tragic And Ignored History Of Black Veterans

On a December morning in 1918, Charles Lewis began his last day as a private in the United States Army. Just a month after the end of World War I, Lewis accepted his honorable discharge and left Camp Sherman, in Chillicothe, Ohio, one of the few military facilities that housed black soldiers. He was headed home to Alabama.

The next day he was dead, killed by a lynch mob in Fulton County, Kentucky.

While Lewis was waiting for the southbound train to leave Fulton, the local deputy sheriff boarded the train car, looking for suspects in a robbery. He approached Lewis, demanding to inspect his baggage. The young soldier, still in uniform, declared that he had just been honorably discharged and had never committed a crime in his life. Lewis even provided documents from his commanding officers at Camp Sherman attesting to his excellent service record. An argument broke out between the two and Lewis was charged with assault and resisting arrest.

His body, still in uniform, was left for all to see.

As Lewis was taken to the county jail in Hickman, Kentucky, news of the altercation spread. A mob of as many as 100 men gathered outside the jail. At midnight, masked men stormed the station, smashed the locks with a sledgehammer, pulled Lewis from his cell, and hanged him. His body, still in uniform, was left for all to see.

Days after his murder, True Democrat, a Louisiana paper, published an editorial entitled, “Nip It in the Bud.”

“The root of the trouble was that the negro thought that being a soldier he was not subject to civil authority,” the editorial read. “The conditions of active warfare and the regulations of army life have probably given these men more exalted ideas of their station in life than really exists and having these ideas they will be guilty of many acts of self-assertion, arrogance and insolence which will not be borne with, in the South at least, and which will be followed by consequences to them, more or less painful.”

Lewis is just one of dozens of African-American veterans who were the targets of racially motivated attacks detailed in “Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans,” a report by the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Because a victim&aposs military service was often overlooked by newspapers and officials at the time, the report cites only the lynching of veterans whose military service was verified by EJI, according to Jennifer Taylor, a staff lawyer and one of the report’s authors. The number of veterans killed during this time period is likely much higher.

The latest report is the follow-up to a larger investigation by EJIpublished in 2015 that documented more than 4,000 lynchings — extrajudicial killings that often occurred in public — of African-Americans between 1877 and 1950.

Photo via the Library of Congress

A picket station of black troops near Dutch Gap Canal, in Virginia, November 1864.

The lynching of veterans served a particular purpose: African-Americans who’d served their country with honor posed a threat to the established racial hierarchy that was used to justify Jim Crow-era racism.Their murders were aimed at silencing the powerful voices of dissent against the racist system

The detailed accounts paint a graphic picture of racial violence in America and its insidious impact even on the men who answered their country’s call. It’s a history that was rarely shared publicly, Taylor explained, and so the stories remain mostly unknown.

After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the imposition of Jim Crow laws — the system of government-sanctioned segregation and racial bias that existed in the United States until the late 1960s — barred black people from fair access to the political and judicial process in many ways. Between the end of the Civil War and the years after World War II, thousands of black veterans were accosted, assaulted, and attacked. Many were lynched at the hands of mobs and individuals acting under the cover of official authority.

Photo via the National Archives

Soldiers with the New York National Guard’s 369th Infantry Regiment, popularly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The unit was manned entirely by African-American enlisted soldiers with both black and white officers.

During the Red Summer of 1919, which earned its name from the anti-black riots that erupted in major cities across the country, countless black veterans were attacked. In that year alone, at least 10 were lynched.

Robert Truett, an 18-year old-Army veteran, was hanged in Louise, Mississippi, on July 15, 1919, because he allegedly made an “indecent proposal” to a white woman.

On Aug. 31, 1919, in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Lucius McCarty, an African-American Army veteran was accused of attempting to assault a white woman. A mob of 1,500 people gathered, pumped more than 1,000 rounds into his body, and dragged his corpse behind a car through the town’s black neighborhoods, before throwing the remains into a bonfire.

For many African-Americans, the military, though segregated and still infused with racial tension, offered at least the hope of economic and social mobility, but many returned to communities staunchly and, at times, violently opposed to the idea.

“It often breeded an internal and an external conflict and that played out in situations where people were coming home and were protesting various kinds of mistreatment,” Taylor explained.

Even during and after World War II, a global conflict meant to stem the tide of fascism and end mass genocide, some of the same veterans who fought for those ideals in theaters across the world were victimized in the United States, often for exercising the very rights they fought to protect.

Photo via the National Archives

A military policeman in Columbus, Georgia, April 13, 1942.

“That veteran status was kind of an opportunity to get up-close exposure to the hypocrisies that had actually existed in the country,” Taylor explained, pointing out that military service had a tendency to shape and impact the way African-American veterans viewed the racial hierarchies that existed in their own communities. “They had to figure out ‘Is that something I’m going to accept, or is that something I’m going to try to figure out how to continue to fight against?’”

On Feb. 8, 1946, Timothy Hood, an honorably discharged Marine, removed the Jim Crow sign from a trolley in Bessemer, Alabama. He was shot repeatedly by the trolley owner, before being arrested. He died in the back of the police car. Less than a month later, J.C. Farmer, a black veteran, was waiting for a bus in Wilson, North Carolina, on Aug. 17, 1946, when he was ordered into a police officer’s patrol car. When Farmer objected, the officer allegedly struck Farmer in the head. In the ensuing scuffle, the officer’s gun went off, shooting its owner in the hand. Within the hour, a mob had formed and Farmer was dead.

Photo via the National Archives

Sgt. John C. Clark Staff Sgt. Ford M. Shaw clean their rifles in a bivouac area alongside the East-West Trail in Bougainville on April 4, 1944.

In 1943, Maceo Snipes, left his home in Butler, Georgia, to enlist in the Army. Two and a half years later, with an honorable discharge, and $110 to his name, he returned to his family farm in Taylor County. With the war over, cotton, peanuts, and corn became his mission, while farm tools replaced the arms and equipment he carried during his six months in the Pacific theater.

Snipes likely believed that having served his country, he should have the right to vote in it too. On July 17, 1946, he was the only African-American in racially segregated Taylor County to vote in the Democratic primary for governor.

The next day, several white men in a pickup truck came to Snipes’ house and shot him, before driving away unhindered. Two days after making history as the first, and only, African-American in his county to cast a ballot in that election, he died of his wounds.

Fearing more attacks, his family fled, hastily burying his body under cover of darkness. To this day the exact location of his remains is unknown. The killing was listed as self-defense, though the family and historians, have refuted that repeatedly, arguing that it was a lynching.

“You could give so much to your country, and then return to a country that, at that time, gave so little back.”

“You have a person, like Maceo Snipes, who understood the significance of fighting for equal rights and fighting for the rights of all people to enjoy the benefits of this country,” Edward Dubose, a national board member with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told Task & Purpose. For Dubose, a 21-year Army veteran who worked closely with the family of Snipes on efforts to launch a federal investigation of his death, the killing is particularly telling and deeply personal.

“A man was prepared to sacrifice his life, and for him to come back and be killed for engaging in something so sacred — the right to vote — for me, as a veteran, standing on people’s shoulders like Maceo Snipes, and dealing with my own discrimination in the military, it was just very personal,” Dubose said. “You could give so much to your country, and then return to a country that, at that time, gave so little back.”

Today, on the walls of the Taylor County courthouse in Butler, Georgia, are three plaques honoring World War II veterans from the area. One reads “Whites,” and another — where Snipes&apos name can be found — is labeled “Colored.” On a third, more recent plaque, Snipes’ name appears again, listed among all of his brothers in arms, whatever their skin color.

James Clarkis the Deputy Editor of Task & Purpose and a Marine veteran. He oversees daily editorial operations, edits articles, and supports reporters so they can continue to write the impactful stories that matter to our audience. In terms of writing, James provides a mix of pop culture commentary and in-depth analysis of issues facing the military and veterans community. Contact the author here.


A 'Forgotten History' Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America

Federal housing policies created after the Depression ensured that African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects, such as Detroit's Brewster-Douglass towers. Paul Sancya/AP hide caption

Federal housing policies created after the Depression ensured that African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects, such as Detroit's Brewster-Douglass towers.

In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America's housing stock. Author Richard Rothstein says the housing programs begun under the New Deal were tantamount to a "state-sponsored system of segregation."

Historian Says Don't 'Sanitize' How Our Government Created Ghettos

The government's efforts were "primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects.

Rothstein's new book, The Color of Law, examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that t he Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as "redlining." At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.

Code Switch

Everyone Pays A Hefty Price For Segregation, Study Says

Rothstein says these decades-old housing policies have had a lasting effect on American society. "The segregation of our metropolitan areas today leads . to stagnant inequality, because families are much less able to be upwardly mobile when they're living in segregated neighborhoods where opportunity is absent," he says. "If we want greater equality in this society, if we want a lowering of the hostility between police and young African-American men, we need to take steps to desegregate."

Interview Highlights

On how the Federal Housing Administration justified discrimination

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

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The Federal Housing Administration's justification was that if African-Americans bought homes in these suburbs, or even if they bought homes near these suburbs, the property values of the homes they were insuring, the white homes they were insuring, would decline. And therefore their loans would be at risk.

There was no basis for this claim on the part of the Federal Housing Administration. In fact, when African-Americans tried to buy homes in all-white neighborhoods or in mostly white neighborhoods, property values rose because African-Americans were more willing to pay more for properties than whites were, simply because their housing supply was so restricted and they had so many fewer choices. So the rationale that the Federal Housing Administration used was never based on any kind of study. It was never based on any reality.

On how federal agencies used redlining to segregate African-Americans

The term "redlining" . comes from the development by the New Deal, by the federal government of maps of every metropolitan area in the country. And those maps were color-coded by first the Home Owners Loan Corp. and then the Federal Housing Administration and then adopted by the Veterans Administration, and these color codes were designed to indicate where it was safe to insure mortgages. And anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.

On the FHA manual that explicitly laid out segregationist policies

The Two-Way

Interactive Redlining Map Zooms In On America's History Of Discrimination

It was in something called the Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration, which said that "incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities." Meaning that loans to African-Americans could not be insured.

In one development . in Detroit . the FHA would not go ahead, during World War II, with this development unless the developer built a 6-foot-high wall, cement wall, separating his development from a nearby African-American neighborhood to make sure that no African-Americans could even walk into that neighborhood.

The Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration recommended that highways be a good way to separate African-American from white neighborhoods. So this was not a matter of law, it was a matter of government regulation, but it also wasn't hidden, so it can't be claimed that this was some kind of "de facto" situation. Regulations that are written in law and published . in the Underwriting Manual are as much a de jure unconstitutional expression of government policy as something written in law.

On the long-term effects of African-Americans being prohibited from buying homes in suburbs and building equity

Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century.

African-American families that were prohibited from buying homes in the suburbs in the 1940s and '50s and even into the '60s, by the Federal Housing Administration, gained none of the equity appreciation that whites gained. So . the Daly City development south of San Francisco or Levittown or any of the others in between across the country, those homes in the late 1940s and 1950s sold for about twice national median income. They were affordable to working-class families with an FHA or VA mortgage. African-Americans were equally able to afford those homes as whites but were prohibited from buying them. Today those homes sell for $300,000 [or] $400,000 at the minimum, six, eight times national median income. .

So in 1968 we passed the Fair Housing Act that said, in effect, "OK, African-Americans, you're now free to buy homes in Daly City or Levittown" . but it's an empty promise because those homes are no longer affordable to the families that could've afforded them when whites were buying into those suburbs and gaining the equity and the wealth that followed from that.

NPR Ed

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By 'Individual Choices'

The white families sent their children to college with their home equities they were able to take care of their parents in old age and not depend on their children. They're able to bequeath wealth to their children. None of those advantages accrued to African-Americans, who for the most part were prohibited from buying homes in those suburbs.

On how housing projects went from being for white middle- and lower-middle-class families to being predominantly black and poor

Public housing began in this country for civilians during the New Deal and it was an attempt to address a housing shortage it wasn't a welfare program for poor people. During the Depression, no housing construction was going on. Middle-class families, working-class families were losing their homes during the Depression when they became unemployed and so there were many unemployed middle-class, working-class white families and this was the constituency that the federal government was most interested in. And so the federal government began a program of building public housing for whites only in cities across the country. The liberal instinct of some Roosevelt administration officials led them to build some projects for African-Americans as well, but they were always separate projects they were not integrated. .

The white projects had large numbers of vacancies black projects had long waiting lists. Eventually it became so conspicuous that the public housing authorities in the federal government opened up the white-designated projects to African-Americans, and they filled with African-Americans. At the same time, industry was leaving the cities, African-Americans were becoming poorer in those areas, the projects became projects for poor people, not for working-class people. They became subsidized, they hadn't been subsidized before. . And so they became vertical slums that we came to associate with public housing. .

The vacancies in the white projects were created primarily by the Federal Housing Administration program to suburbanize America, and the Federal Housing Administration subsidized mass production builders to create subdivisions that were "white-only" and they subsidized the families who were living in the white housing projects as well as whites who were living elsewhere in the central city to move out of the central cities and into these white-only suburbs. So it was the Federal Housing Administration that depopulated public housing of white families, while the public housing authorities were charged with the responsibility of housing African-Americans who were increasingly too poor to pay the full cost of their rent.

Radio producers Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner and Web producers Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper contributed to this story.


World War I

This feature commemorates the outbreak of the First World War. This major historical event became known as The Great War. The main belligerent European countries involved in the War were imperial powers with large colonial territories in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The First World War was the first war fought along modern industrial lines. What marked its difference from previous wars, in Europe, is the scale and brutality of casualties inflicted on both sides. Between July 1914, when the war began, and November 1918, when it was concluded, nine million soldiers were killed and twenty-one million wounded.

It was a war in which the technology of the industrial revolution was harnessed to the demands of the battlefield. The development of railways and steamships meant that large armies could be transported over long distance within days. Scientific advances in the chemical industry and the development of electricity rendered war firepower far more deadly than before, resulting in casualties on a scale never experienced before. The First World War also saw the introduction of the use of aircraft which made possible mass bombardments of civilians. This was the first time chemical weapons were introduced onto the battlefield. The War resulted in one of the first genocides of the twentieth century.

The social and political consequences of the War were far reaching. When the War began most of the world’s governments were ruled by imperial monarchies such as Tsarist Russia, Imperial Germany and the Austria-Hungarian Empire. By the end of the War, revolutions in Germany, Austria and Russia ended the era of absolutist monarchy as workers and soldiers rebelled against the suffering and deprivation imposed by the War.

The First World War had a huge impact on the position of women in society. In many countries the entire adult male population was involved in fighting. This created a huge shortage of labour which meant that the output from different sectors of the economy was not at its maximum capacity. The production of armaments and equipment needed by soldiers took priority over normal industrial production. Women stepped into the gap left by men in the spheres of transport, industry, policing and most war industries. They operated the munitions factories responsible for feeding the war machine. Women became a visible public presence, not just as wives and mothers, but as economic and social actors in their own right. Many also volunteered for medical service at the front. Before the war women worked primarily in domestic service, the textile industry and teaching. Traditionally, these were regarded as female occupations. With men gone to war, women filled their positions in engineering, shipbuilding, farming and commerce. An important consequence of the War was the granting of the vote to women. Before the war the Suffragette Movement in Great Britain had been waging a militant campaign in support of granting the vote to women. In June 1917, the House of Commons approved the women’s suffrage clause by adopting the Representation of the People’s Bill.

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Watch the video: How WWI Changed America: African Americans in WWI (May 2022).