Photograph showing six people, including Charles Young, standing in front of Young's residence in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
The Crisis says, first your Country, then your Rights!
Certain honest thinkers among us hesitate at that last sentence. They say it is all well to be idealistic, but is it not true that while we have fought our country’s battles for one hundred fifty years, we have not gained our rights? No, we have gained them rapidly and effectively by our loyalty in time of trial."
—W.E.B. DuBois, from Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca: Racial Awareness After the War on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Great War Primary Documents Archive
W.E.B. DuBois, an African American intellectual, whose call for racial equality marked him as a radical thinker in his era, strongly supported the war effort, but the patriotism of African American soldiers was not recognized or rewarded by white military commanders as they deserved.
For example, the public and private remarks of General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe, expose the often hypocritical attitudes toward African Americans among many white Americans in the early 20th century.
We must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of white Americans…”
—General John J. Pershing, in a secret communiqué concerning African-American troops sent to the French military stationed with the American army, August 7, 1918, available on Stories to Tell: African Americans in the Military on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource National Park Service: Links to the Past
“I cannot commend too highly the spirit shown among the colored combat troops, who exhibit fine capacity for quick training and eagerness for the most dangerous work.” —General John J. Pershing, in Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War (Preface) on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Great War Primary Documents Archive
Despite institutionalized prejudice, hundreds of thousands of African Americans fought in the U.S. military during World War I. Even as most African Americans did not reap the benefits of American democracy—so central to the rhetoric of World War I—many still chose to support a nation that denied them full citizenship. What were their experiences back home when the war was over?
In this lesson, students view archival photographs, combine their efforts to comb through a database of more than 2,000 archival newspaper accounts about race relations in the United States, and read newspaper articles written from different points of view about post-war riots in Chicago.
Note: This lesson may be taught as a stand-alone lesson, as a sequel to the U.S. Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology and The Debate in the United States over The League of Nations curriculum units, and/or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment lesson, African American Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Divisions.
What was the state of race relations in the U.S. before, during, and after World War I?
In preparation for this activity, show the class how to use the Subject Index of the African American Experience in Ohio, on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource American Memory, to call up all the documents in the database on “United States Race Relations.” On the Subject Index page, click on “Youth.” Next, choose “United States--Race relations.” Page one, with links to the first 20 documents, appears. Using the link to “Next Page,” students can move to particular pages.
On page one, click on “$400,000 for Two Mulattoes [from newspaper]” to go to the bibliography page for this article. Here you can learn the date and source of the document. To view a digitized copy of the document, choose “View This Item.” Students choosing documents may be able to eliminate an item on the basis of its title, date, or source. Or, they may have to skim through the text. Most of the newspaper articles are very short.
Share with the class the “Homecoming” section of Black Yankee: An Interview with Thomas Davis, First World War Veteran on World War I: Trenches on the Web, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library. How do Mr. Davis’s remarks reflect his opinion of race relations before and after World War I? In the following activity, students will attempt to find evidence from Ohio’s African American press that supports or contradicts Mr. Davis’ perceptions.
Assign students to balanced groups (adjust the size according to computer availability) or to work individually if sufficient computers are available. Inform students that they will now have the opportunity to conduct authentic historical research to discover what attitudes about race relations were expressed in Ohio’s African-American press before, during, and after World War I. A search on “United States Race Relations” in the Subject Index of African American Experience in Ohio, on the EDSITEment-reviewed resource American Memory, yields more than 2,300 documents. It would be very time-consuming for an individual to go through that many entries, but students can divide up the task to enable the screening of many documents. Consider assigning individuals or groups as many as 100 documents (or as few as 20) by number (for example, 101-200). Using the title and information on the bibliography page, students can quickly screen many articles, reading through only the most promising.
Each group/individual is responsible for locating six documents:
If desired, students can use the handout “Accounts in the African-American Press in Ohio,” on page 1 of the Master PDF, to summarize what they find.
In preparation for the next activity, distribute one of the six articles about the Chicago Riots (listed in Part 3) to every student to be read at home or in class, if time permits.
NOTE: Classes that have completed the companion EDSITEment lesson, African American Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Divisions, should start with Part 2. The following brief, optional activities here provide some context and background for contemporary students.
To our students, World War I must seem quite distant. Yet the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Congress Link, reported that, as of May 2001, 2,503 veterans of World War I were still alive. A living link to that conflict remains, but it is vanishing. If desired, share with the class the chart with the heading “It is estimated that the number of living World War I veterans will be:” (last chart on the page) from the online publication America’s Wars, May 2001, available on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, for projections of the numbers of surviving World War I veterans until 2018.
Some background information would be useful for any students unaware of the conditions for African Americans civilians in the United States prior to the war. Commonly accepted beliefs and practices of the day effectively limited their rights. African American Odyssey, an exhibit of the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, offers an Introduction to World War I and Postwar Society. Share with the class the section “Guinn vs. United States” to help students begin to appreciate the ways African Americans were prevented from enjoying full citizenship. If desired, look at the accompanying document NAACP Board minutes, June 3, 1913. What were some of the other issues on the NAACP agenda (inter-marriage, vigilance, federal aid to education)? If desired, share other exhibits and documents on the page. Other exhibits in the Introduction to World War I and Postwar Society touch on housing segregation and the work of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs for the community and against voting discrimination and lynching.
The article World War I and African Americans on Africana.com, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library, offers a wide-ranging though concise summary of conditions for African Americans before, during, and after World War I. Some classes would benefit from reading it.
Share with students the wartime poster True Sons of Freedom on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. What does the poster depict? What was the likely purpose of the poster? To what attitudes among African Americans was the poster attempting to appeal?
Share any or all of the following photographs and full captions from the collection of the National Archives, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Digital Classroom. The last four are about the reception of the universally praised 369th Infantry. If desired, use the Photo Analysis Worksheet, also on Digital Classroom.
What do these photographs indicate about how African-American soldiers were received by the community and the white establishment when they first returned from the war?
Share with students the basic introduction found in all of the articles below from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters:
As U.S. soldiers returned from Europe in the aftermath of World War I, scarce housing and jobs heightened racial and class antagonisms across urban America. African-American soldiers, in particular, came home from the war expecting to enjoy the full rights of citizenship that they had fought to defend overseas. In the spring and summer of 1919, murderous race riots erupted in 22 American cities and towns. Chicago experienced the most severe of these riots.
Divide the class into six groups, and assign each group one of the following articles:
Allow time for students to analyze their assigned articles. Download, copy, and distribute the handout “The Chicago Riots: One Point of View” on page 2 of the Master PDF. Student groups should respond to each question regarding their assigned account of the Chicago Riots.
Gather the class. Allow groups time to share the information from their article. When all groups are done, attempt to arrive at a statement for each of the following:
Citing some specific evidence, have each student take a stand in one paragraph on the question, “What was the state of race relations after World War I?” Allow volunteers to share. Discuss as a class.
3-4 class periods