african americans at war

Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the first all-African-American, all-female unit to serve overseas in World War II, take part in a parade ceremony in honor of Joan d'Arc at the marketplace where she was burned at the stake. Rouen, France. May 27, 1945.

(US National Archives)

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CultureHISTORY: The “Lost Friends” Ads - New Orleans, LA (1879-1880)

A heartbreaking piece featuring the newly digitized collection of original advertisements from a New Orleans newspaper between November 1879 and December 1880. Because it was part of the institution of slavery to split up families, after the Civil War, African Americans began the search for their lost kin. Once they were free, this was one of the few options former slaves had to try and find their families. Writing ads in local newspapers. Just another piece of American History.

Full article via Slate with more ads, The Hopeful, Heartbreaking Ads Placed by Formerly Enslaved People In Search Of Lost Family

Trackwomen, 1943. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company

Series: Women Working In Industry, 1940 - 1945. Record Group 86: Records of the Women’s Bureau, 1892 - 1995

March is Women’s History Month! Women have shaped this country’s history in more ways than we can count. Long before Rosie the Riveter joined the war effort in the 1940s, women earned wages to support themselves and their families. This series of posts celebrates the diversity of women’s labor, ranging from industry to agriculture to folklore and beyond. 

This archival series (Women Working In Industry, 1940 - 1945) contains images depicting women and their contributions to the war effort during World War II. The photographs show women for the first time on a mass scale and from every social and economical background preforming jobs that have been traditionally considered as men’s work. In addition to the clerical and secretarial fields, women are seen working in the aircraft industry, the metal industry, ordnance, the railroad, the shipyards, as well as the military services. There are approximately 94 different occupations shown in this series where women were performing the work.


This month’s Women’s History series comes via Nora Sutton, one of our interns from the Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program. Nora is finishing her Master’s in Public History at West Virginia University this semester.

William B. Gould and his sons, 1917. In 1862 Gould escaped from slavery by rowing a boat 52 kilometers down the Cape Fear River and into the Atlantic, where he was picked up by, and subsequently joined, the Union navy. He kept an eloquent diary of his experiences and travels during and after the war. A half-century later, his six sons joined the military to fight in the Spanish-American War and World War One.

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The Swingin’ Harlem Hellfighters Band,

The Harlem Hellfighters have taken to the spotlight in modern times thanks to the popularity of the video game “Battlefield 1″, where the African American soldiers are featured in the very opening of the game. The US 369th Infantry Regiment was a unit of African American soldiers who served with incredible distinction during World War I. During the war many white American soldiers refused to serve with blacks, and as a result the 369th was assigned to the French Army, the French having little qualms with serving with African Americans, nor did they have a policy of segregation such as the US Army. They were even issued French weapons and wore French helmets while in combat. During their service in World War I the 369th was nicknamed by the French “The Harlem Hellfighters” because of their tenacious fighting spirit.  They never gave ground in combat, not one soldier was ever captured, and they served the longest continuous deployment of any other Allied unit during the war (191 days of continuous combat). Due to their bravery, they were also among the most decorated Allied units, with two Medals of Honor, 171 French Croix de Guerre’s, and numerous Distinguished Service Crosses.

One of the most unique features of the Harlem Hellfighter’s was their band, perhaps the only unit in the entire war to have a ragtime band.  Unlike pretty much all other military bands which played traditional marches and martial music, the Harlem Hellfighter Band played the music they loved and could perform best, mostly American ragtime music and early forms of Jazz.  The Harlem Hellfighter Band was directed by Lt. James Reese Europe, a man who was certainly fit for the job as he was the band leader of the Clef Club Orchestra, a band popular in New York for their ragtime and proto-jazz music.

On April 8th, 1918 French soldiers turned their heads in wonder as The Harlem Hellfighters marched toward the front to the tunes of hot ragtime and Jazz beats. 

No one in Europe had ever heard such music, in fact Jazz was barely even heard in the United States outside of a few communities in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.  The new music became an instant hit among both French and British soldiers, and before long the Harlem Hellfighters Band was being called to perform for French and British units all along the line, as well as villages they passed through. Soon, the Harlem Hellfighters swinging sound took Western Europe by storm, and the band was even invited to perform in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Among the Hellfighters biggest hits was a ragtime tune called “Memphis Blues”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJPztEjzf6s

Another popular hit was “On Patrol in No Man’s Land”, written by Lt. James Europe himself while recuperating after being wounded in a poison gas attack while on patrol.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpFCuZ-B4j0

And then of course the biggest crowd pleaser given the location and audience was a jazzed up version of “Le Marseillaise”  

After the war the band would make a grand tour of Europe, then return home and make a grand tour of the United States. Stories of the Harlem Hellfighters unique sound had spread across American and people were demanding more.  During their American tour, the band cut 24 records. Everywhere they went, whether in Europe or the United States, they drew huge cheering crowds, they had become the superstars of their day. 

Unfortunately the story of the Harlem Hellfighters Band did not end well for James Europe. On the night of May 9th, 1919 Europe confronted one of his drummers over poor and unprofessional behavior.  The drummer, known as a hothead among the band members, attacked Europe and stabbed him in the throat with a penknife. Europe bled out and died while in the hospital later that night.

The legacy of the Harlem Hellfighters Band is as grand and all encompassing for music as the Great War itself.  Essentially, the band is credited with spreading the popularity of Jazz throughout Europe and America. Before World War I, Jazz was a niche genre of music, common only among African Americans living in certain areas of New York, New Orleans, and Chicago.  After the exploits of the Harlem Hellfighters Band Jazz would spread across the world, becoming the dominant form of popular music up to the 1950′s and serving as the predecessor to popular music styles today such as rock, hip hop, pop, and soul.

All The Topics to Know for the APUSH Exam (as told by my APUSH teacher)
  • Revolutionary War/Constitution/Articles of Confederation
  • The First Party System: Federalists and Republicans
  • Revolution of 1800
  • Jacksonian Democracy (1824-1840)
    • the Bank War
    • the spoils system
    • Indian Removal Act
  • Antebellum reform movements and the Second Great Awakening
  • Causes of the Civil War and sectional differences
    • political parties (Democrats vs. New Republicans)
    • economics
    • social differences
  • Reconstruction (1863-1877)
    • successes/failures
    • 13th - 15th amendments
      • connections to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s
  • Industrialization and Big Business/The Gilded Age (1860-1910)
    • vertical and horizontal integration
    • trusts
    • steel, oil, and railroads
    • Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan
    • growth of cities
    • immigration
    • changes in politics and political machines
  • The Populist Movement and agrarian discontent
  • The Progressive Era (1890-1920)
    • an effort to deal with the adverse effects of industrial capitalism
    • the Progressive Presidents
  • The Indian Plains Wars (through 1890)
  • Spanish-American War (1898)
  • IMPERIALISM: Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, etc.
  • World War I
    • causes/effects
    • the home front
  • The Red Scare
  • The 1920s
    • sources of conflict (economic, political, and social)
    • effects on women, African Americans, and immigrants
  • The 1930s, the Great Depression, and the New Deal
    • Hoover vs. FDR
    • economic, social, and political reforms
  • World War II
    • results, the home front
    • effects on women, African Americans, Native Americans (Navajo codetalkers, etc), Japanese Americans, and Mexican Americans
  • The Cold War
    • foreign policy
      • where and when
    • 1950s
      • conformity, suburbs, Baby Boom, domestication of women, challenges to conformity, expanding economy, consumer culture
      • similarities to the 1920s
    • 1960s
      • civil rights movement (who, what, when, where, why, successes and failures)
      • Lyndon B. Johnson and the Great Society (1963-1968)
        • domestic and foreign issues
    • 1970s
      • Richard Nixon (1968-1973)
        • foreign and domestic policies
        • detente and Vietnam
        • the Southern Strategy and Watergate
    • 1980s
      • Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
        • foreign and domestic policies
        • tax cuts
        • military spending
        • shrinking of the government
        • the new right
      • George H.W. Bush and the end of the Cold War
  • Bill Clinton and Barack Obama
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A Vanishing History: Gullah Geechee Nation

On the Sea Islands along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, a painful chapter of American history is playing out again. 

These islands are home to the Gullah or Geechee people, the descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to work at the plantations that once ran down the southern Atlantic coast. After the Civil War, many former slaves on the Sea Islands bought portions of the land where their descendants have lived and farmed for generations. That property, much of it undeveloped waterfront land, is now some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

But the Gullah are now discovering that land ownership on the Sea Islands isn’t quite what it seemed. Local landowners are struggling to hold on to their ancestral land as resort developers with deep pockets exploit obscure legal loopholes to force the property into court-mandated auctions. These tactics have successfully fueled a tourism boom that now attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. Gullah communities have all but disappeared, replaced by upscale resorts and opulent gated developments that new locals — golfers, tourists, and mostly white retirees — fondly call “plantations.”

Faced with an epic case of déjà vu, the Gullah are scrambling for solutions as their livelihood and culture vanish, one waterfront mansion at a time.

August 8, 1917 - African-American Groups Protest Racism and Segregation in the US Military

Pictured - The American military was segregated in both World Wars. In World War One, African-Americans contributed dis-proportionally to the war effort, but were subjected to unending racism by military authorities and often assigned to menial tasks.

When the United States entered World War One in 1917, its military had 10,000 black soldiers. Black Americans had served in the military since the Civil War, and as “Buffalo soldiers” on the frontiers and against the Spanish, but they were relegated to their own units, usually staffed by white officers.

At America’s entry into World War One, many more African-Americans joined up. They came with various motives: many wanted to prove they could fight as well as any other, that they deserved to be treated equally or “as a man”, to escape racism and poverty at home, or maybe just because they were bored. Meanwhile 13% of draftees were black, despite blacks making up only 10& of the population. Yet for many the American military would only extend the racism they faced at home.

Many African-American units were sent to train in the Jim Crow south, where southern white drill instructors tormented them. Not all branches of the American military allowed black men to serve; the Marines refused black recruits. The National Guard tried to address the problem by prohibiting black soldiers from training in the south. This attempted solution dodged the root cause and sparked uproar with groups like the NAACP, the National Association for hte Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group formed by W.E.B. DuBois.

These groups protested racism in the military in major American cities. “We protest against any order by the government based upon race discrimination,” the Chicago Tribune reported a spokesman saying.

“We demand the same treatment and training for all United States soldiers regardless of race or color. Let our government stand for one country, one flag, one duty for all citizens and for real democracy in our own country as well as for democracy in Europe.” 

29 Days of February - 29 Photos of African Americans throughout Naval History. ‪#‎BlackHistoryMonth‬

Original Caption:
US Navy African-American Navy Cross-awarded gun crew: Jonell Copeland, Que Gant, Harold Clark Jr., James Eddie Dockery, Alonzo Alexander Swann, Eli Benjamin; circa 1945. (National Archives Photo # 80-G-334029)

An African-American soldier in a training camp, 1917. Most of the American army’s training sites were in the deep South, where armed black men threatened Jim Crow white supremacy.

The mayor of Spartanburg, South Carolina, protested in the New York times that black soldiers, “with their Northern ideas about race equality, they will probably expect to be treated like white men. I can say right here that they will not be treated as anything except negroes.” The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce also wrote in that “It is a great mistake to send Northern negroes down here, for they do not understand our attitude.”

SAVAGE SKULLS…based in South Bronx, the gang declared war on the drug dealers that operated in the area, mid 1970s.

June 1, 1942 - U.S. Marine Corps Enlists African Americans

“Breaking a tradition of 167 years, the U.S. Marine Corps started enlisting Negroes on June 1, 1942. The first class of 1,200 Negro volunteers began their training 3 months later as members of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Montford Point, a section of the 200-square-mile Marine Base, Camp Lejeune, at New River, NC. The first Negro to enlist was Howard P. Perry shown here.”

Series: Negro Activities in Industry, Government, and the Armed Forces, 1941 - 1945Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 - 1951

The Loyalist and African American Escape from Yorktown

On the 19th of October 1781, Washington won his most famous victory following the capitulation of the Crown Forces garrisoning Yorktown, Virginia. For Earl Charles Cornwallis and his fellow officers, defeat meant bitter embarrassment and shame. For their British and Hessian soldiers it meant the same, coupled with the potential of spending the rest of the war in the miserable conditions of an American prison camp. For the Loyalists and African Americans, however, the defeat spelled the potential for death or enslavement. 

Cornwallis was well aware of this, and sought immunity for Loyalists as part of the tenth article of capitulation. Washington refused this article, leaving Cornwallis with no choice other than to abandon formal attempts to negotiate his allies to safety. The British, however, did not give up on more clandestine means of escape. Washington permitted that a single British sloop, the Bonetta, be allowed to sail to British-held New York without being searched, for the purpose of carrying dispatches. Numerous African Americans and Loyalists were smuggled onboard. The ruse was almost discovered where a Patriot commander, General Nelson, demanded he be allowed to inspect the sloop for blacks and “enemies of the state.” Nelson’s French allies, however, insisted that he adhere to the articles of capitulation, and let the sloop go. It reached New York safely, though “guards were placed along the shore to prevent runaways from escaping to the ship, although it was feared many were already hidden onboard.” The Governor of Virginia also wrote angrily to Cornwallis, claiming ‘negroes are attempting to escape by getting onboard the Bonetta… [where] they will endeavour to lie concealed from your lordship until the vessel sails.’ It is not known if Cornwallis ever replied. Washington himself was only able to recover two of the slaves who had fled his plantation. 

The British also hit upon another ingenious means of smuggling ex-slaves to freedom. Under the articles, officer’s servants were not to be separated from their masters, and were allowed to travel with them on parole, and subsequent freedom. An eyewitness recorded that the ships bearing the British officers were “packed together, with two servants to each officer.” Another commented on fifty men and women “whose faces were hidden” - Americans who had deserted the Revolutionary cause, and knew they faced the potential of execution if caught. 

Cornwallis was known to have 4000 or 5000 black recruits at Yorktown and Portsmouth. Smallpox killed about sixty percent of those that caught the disease, but in this case some were inoculated against it, so perhaps half the runaways were spared, though wounds and typhus also took a huge toll. Maybe 2000 survived. It is impossible to establish what happened to them. A proportion of the survivors, perhaps half, must have been forced back into slavery.

Happy Black History Month!

See the work of Horace Pippin on view in Masterworks from the Hirshhorn Collection

Serving in an African American regiment during World War I in France, self-taught artist Horace Pippin received a wound that partially paralyzed his right arm. Thereafter, Pippin used painting  as a physical therapy, and in 1931 was able to complete his first oil painting. Although his earliest works are somber depictions of his wartime experiences, his later scenes are hopeful and imbued with religious faith. “Holy Mountain III” (1945) is based on the biblical passage Isaiah 11:6-9, a prophecy that describes a peaceful world in which predatory animals live in harmony with their prey. A dense forest is suggested behind the flowered field, in which small, shadowy figures threaten to disturb the utopia.

Jordan Anderson or Jourdon Anderson (1825 – 1907) was an African-American former slave noted for a letter he dictated, known as “Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master”

It was addressed to his former master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, in response to the Colonel’s request that Jordan return to the plantation to help restore the farm after the disarray of the war. It has been described as a rare example of documented “slave humor” of the period and its deadpan style has been compared to the satire of Mark Twain.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To my Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday-School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve, and die if it comes to that, than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant, Jourdan Anderson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_Anderson

AnswerTime!  Ask an Archivist about World War I

Join the National Archives’ Mitch Yockelson for a World War I-themed Tumblr Answer Time here at @todaysdocument on Wednesday, October 4 from 12pm - 1pm ET (9am- 10am PT) !

See all the Questions and Answers from our AnswerTime!

October 4 is #AskAnArchivist Day and as we’re in the midst of the World War I Centennial, we’ve invited World War I expert Mitch Yockelson to join us for a Tumblr Answer Time. Bring all your questions about World War I including:

  • How can I research an ancestor who fought in the war?
  • What World War I resources does the National Archives have?
  • What prominent personalities emerged out of the war?
  • How did African Americans serve during the war?
  • What roles did women fill?

Mitchell Yockelson is an investigative archivist with the National Archives Archival Recovery Program. He has also written two books on World War I, including Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I