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African American World War I soldiers served at a time racism was rampant in the U.S.

2stepz_ahead2stepz_ahead Who I am is Complex, What i am, simply put. I'm a Threatwalking out the lions denGuests, Members, Writer, Content Producer Posts: 32,324 ✭✭✭✭✭
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/09/22/african-american-world-war-i-soldiers-served-at-a-time-racism-was-rampant-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.f30ace7b3366

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The young African American soldier sits on a chair, his legs crossed, his right elbow resting on a table beside him. A vase of flowers sits on the table. An American flag leans in the background.

The soldier’s heavy World War I uniform is buttoned up tight. He wears a broad-brimmed hat and has a single, small chevron of rank on his left sleeve.

As he gazes at the camera, he looks about 18. His name and fate are unknown.

But his century-old image is now available online, along with dozens of other pictures of African American soldiers from the Great War on the website of the Library of Congress.

The library has digitized a newly donated batch of scarce images as part of its continuing exhibit on the centennial of the war, which stretched from 1914 to 1918. And some of the pictures will be added to its next rotation there in November.

There are about 50 photos, almost all of them of black soldiers during World War I. They include shots of men with rifles standing at attention, their lower legs wrapped in leggings called puttees.

There are elegant individual portraits and group shots. There are soldiers and sailors — the latter, in one picture, apparently engaged in some gambling enterprise.

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There’s an unidentified regimental band — more than 40 strong — photographed while sitting in the grass with instruments and huge bass drum. The exact date and place are not known.

There’s a class picture of Company C, 372nd Infantry Regiment, with what are probably its white officers.

Several men are pictured with American flags, at a time when violent racism was rampant in the United States.

“These are obviously people who are proud of serving their country,” said Ryan Reft, an historian in the library’s manuscript division.

They are “demonstrating their citizenship, and their love for America, despite the fact that they are not receiving the rights that they had been promised according to the Constitution,” he said.

One picture shows men of Company A, 321st Labor Battalion, forming a “skirmish line” following a battle, with smashed buildings in the background.

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But they are armed with stretchers and ropes, rather than weapons, and are about to go search not for the enemy but for the bodies of dead.

One soldier wears gloves and has a pipe clenched in his mouth.

The U.S. enters the ‘Great War’ Over There

Between 370,000 and 400,000 African Americans served during World War I, Reft said. Most served as “stevedores, camp laborers, [and in] logistical support.” About 40,000 to 50,000 saw combat and about 770 were killed, he said.

Reft said one of the striking things about the pictures is that the men are in uniform.

“The fact that they even have uniforms, in some ways, is significant,” he said.

Often, especially in the South, black soldiers were required to “go out almost dressed as labor gangs, and not in uniform, because the military was afraid of offending white … sensibilities,” he said.

“It’s literally dangerous to wear a uniform in some places,” he said. “And in some places [black soldiers] are attacked and forced to take them off.”

Overseas, where some of the pictures seem to have been taken, “they could wear that uniform, and be proud of being American in service and not worry about being targeted negatively,” he said.

The photographs were purchased this year and last year by Library of Congress benefactor and collector Tom Liljenquist, who had previously bought and donated hundreds of exquisite photographs of Civil War soldiers.

Iconic Civil War image of master and slave headed to war

Liljenquist gave the new photos to the library earlier this year.

Known for his collection of Civil War images, Liljenquist said in a telephone interview Monday that the importance of the World War I pictures was pointed out to him by local author and photo historian Ronald S. Coddington.

Liljenquist said he purchased some of the images last year in Richmond. Then, last spring, he bought an album of more than 30 pictures that had been assembled by the late collectors Orton and Patricia Begner of Chili, N.Y.

“I snapped them right up,” he said. “They’re beautiful young men. The photographs are really nicely done and well composed.

“Here are these guys going out risking their lives for our country, and yet when they came home, those that did, they weren’t fully embraced by that country,” he said. “That’s what’s so haunting.”

Helena Zinkham, chief of the library’s prints and photographs division, said the donation more than doubles the library’s collection of black-soldier images from World War I.

Thirty-four of the new pictures are on postcards, she said.

Postcards were the rage in those days, and the soldiers probably got multiple copies of each one after sitting for a portrait, she said Monday. Alas, none bore addresses.

“The beauty of this postcard format is that it’s an individual person,” she said. “You’re looking in more detail at a face. … We didn’t have many 🤬 close-ups. And that’s what we have now. The more individual personalities coming through.”



In addition, she said, “we need to, want to, love to hear from people who might recognize” a long-forgotten relative.

One striking photo in the collection shows a young lieutenant named William Stuart Nelson, of the African American 92nd Infantry Division, which suffered over 1,600 killed and wounded in the closing days of the war.

Nelson would later become a dean at Howard University, and an ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Indian statesman Mohandas K. Gandhi.

He would also become an international advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence.


Comments

  • black caesarblack caesar Members Posts: 12,036 ✭✭✭✭✭
    The Harlem Hellfighters.
  • Ip manIp man Members Posts: 993 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Second pic timeless
  • ghostdog56ghostdog56 Members Posts: 2,947 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Do they have any interviews with some of these black service members about why they chose to fight for a country that gives zero 🤬 about them? I honestly just want to hear their reasoning behind it.
  • UndefeatableUndefeatable Members Posts: 1,970 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited September 2017
    Can you imagine serving in these world wars and then coming back home and being treated like 🤬 , even when in uniform?

    I'd completely lose it.
  • 2stepz_ahead2stepz_ahead Who I am is Complex, What i am, simply put. I'm a Threat walking out the lions denGuests, Members, Writer, Content Producer Posts: 32,324 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Can you imagine serving in these world wars and then coming home and coming back and be treated like 🤬 , even when in uniform?

    I'd completely lose it.

    especially if you lost a limb
  • goldenjagoldenja Members Posts: 6,351 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Black Excellence
  • blackgod813blackgod813 Members Posts: 9,577 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Fought an died for a place they wouldn't let them use a restroom of there chosing
  • babelipsssbabelipsss Members Posts: 2,517 ✭✭✭✭✭
    I guess it's really conveniently easy to pass judgement on someone else's livelihood. I'm sure those black soldiers joined the army more as a way to feed and provide versus flag waving. Things were incredibly tough, the depression followed WW1. What were they supposed to do? Protest? That's just a luxury we have today.
  • Max.Max. Members Posts: 33,009 ✭✭✭✭✭
    I was told my a old man that black n mexicans were on the front lines of vietnam

    N cacs were curled up in a ball crying (but history wont tell it)
  • deadeyedeadeye Walmart Warrior Kat's buttMembers Posts: 22,883 ✭✭✭✭✭
    ghostdog56 wrote: »
    Do they have any interviews with some of these black service members about why they chose to fight for a country that gives zero 🤬 about them? I honestly just want to hear their reasoning behind it.


    From what I've seen and heard from various documentaries over the years, they did it because they thought it would earn them respect when they got back home.



    Basically, they were expecting to get treated better as a result of serving their country.
  • VulcanRavenVulcanRaven I don't knowMembers Posts: 18,859 ✭✭✭✭✭
    deadeye wrote: »
    ghostdog56 wrote: »
    Do they have any interviews with some of these black service members about why they chose to fight for a country that gives zero 🤬 about them? I honestly just want to hear their reasoning behind it.


    From what I've seen and heard from various documentaries over the years, they did it because they thought it would earn them respect when they got back home.



    Basically, they were expecting to get treated better as a result of serving their country.

    "Still 🤬 "
  • blackgod813blackgod813 Members Posts: 9,577 ✭✭✭✭✭
    babelipsss wrote: »
    I guess it's really conveniently easy to pass judgement on someone else's livelihood. I'm sure those black soldiers joined the army more as a way to feed and provide versus flag waving. Things were incredibly tough, the depression followed WW1. What were they supposed to do? Protest? That's just a luxury we have today.

    Who passed judgment thats the reason black men join now
  • deadeyedeadeye Walmart Warrior Kat's buttMembers Posts: 22,883 ✭✭✭✭✭
    deadeye wrote: »
    ghostdog56 wrote: »
    Do they have any interviews with some of these black service members about why they chose to fight for a country that gives zero 🤬 about them? I honestly just want to hear their reasoning behind it.


    From what I've seen and heard from various documentaries over the years, they did it because they thought it would earn them respect when they got back home.



    Basically, they were expecting to get treated better as a result of serving their country.

    "Still 🤬 "




    vfc0u2fr8ucm.gif




    Yeah, it's messed up.........but that's what their mindstate was at the time.



    Military service was seen as a pathway to respectability in society.



    Soldier's Story, Tuskegee Airmen, and Red Tails are all movies that show that mentality.















  • jay83jay83 Members Posts: 5,490 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Mr.LV wrote: »
    Black Americans are the greatest patriots to serve this country ,don't let anybody tell you different.

    I was saying this the other day. Whites are saying NFL players are disrespecting the flag by kneeling. This is the same flag that blacks fought and died for while be treating less than humans. The same flag that flew while black pilots put their lives on the line to defend friendly bombers only to get to the ground and go to the coloreds only section. Or even back in the civil war black soldiers didn't even get paid the same wage until Cpl. Gooding had to write a damn essay to Abe lincoln asking why cant black soldiers at least get paid the same as whites.

    Its not like during the Draft in vietnam America told blacks they can sit this one out and make it optional for them to join the Vietnam war from slavery or anything. As long as America has been fighting wars blacks have been right there serving and dying and being treated like 🤬 almost as long as you can remember
  • rickmogulrickmogul IFNOTYNOT Members Posts: 1,961 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Instead of a picture being a thousand words, this pics displays a thousand emotions for me. Had to save it. Good info OP. GOATED U!
  • thegreatunknownthegreatunknown Members Posts: 1,474 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Not only serving, just wearing a uniform is was extremely dangerous for black servicemen. Soldiers were lynched because they were wearing a uniform and "uppity"
  • VulcanRavenVulcanRaven I don't knowMembers Posts: 18,859 ✭✭✭✭✭
    deadeye wrote: »
    deadeye wrote: »
    ghostdog56 wrote: »
    Do they have any interviews with some of these black service members about why they chose to fight for a country that gives zero 🤬 about them? I honestly just want to hear their reasoning behind it.


    From what I've seen and heard from various documentaries over the years, they did it because they thought it would earn them respect when they got back home.



    Basically, they were expecting to get treated better as a result of serving their country.

    "Still 🤬 "




    vfc0u2fr8ucm.gif




    Yeah, it's messed up.........but that's what their mindstate was at the time.



    Military service was seen as a pathway to respectability in society.



    Soldier's Story, Tuskegee Airmen, and Red Tails are all movies that show that mentality.















    Oh I know. Sports, college and entertainment is today what the military was then to blacks. I think that's the reason a lot of athletes are offended really. They thought they wasn't black but OJ and like OJ they getting that wake up call. Tiger got reminded too and he was the Jordan of Golf.
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