African American Odyssey Introduction | Overview | Object List

Exhibit Sections:
Slavery | Free Blacks | Abolition | Civil War | Reconstruction
Booker T. Washington Era
| WWI-Post War | The Depression-WWII | Civil Rights Era |

World War I and Postwar Society

Part 1: Fighting at Home and Abroad | Charting Discrimination
Part 2

World War I galvanized the black community in their effort to make America truly democratic by ensuring full citizenship for all its people. Black soldiers, who continued to serve in segregated units, were involved in protest against racial injustice o n the home front and abroad.

Blacks and whites in the newly-formed NAACP and other organizations led the onslaught against discrimination and segregation in the United States. Numerous NAACP files labeled "Soldier Troubles" document the efforts made to prevent mistreatment of African Americans in the military. The NAACP also pursued voting rights and worked to dismantle various forms of segregation through the courts. Painstakingly, one case at a time, one law at a time, they confronted the racial inequities in the legal system. The Library's extensive civil rights collections document the efforts during this period on the part of blacks and whites to erase the legacy of slavery.

African American artists, actors, and writers led the battle against intellectual and artistic bias. Between the wars, and even during the deprivations of the Great Depression, there was a great crescendo of African American artistic expression in the period known as the "Harlem Renaissance." Paintings, drawings, classical music, jazz, blues, poetry, novels, plays, and dance abounded during this era and won world acclaim. But artistic and intellectual achievement did not win for blacks political, economic, and educational parity with whites. Racism remained a powerful force in American life.

Fighting at Home and Abroad

Chronicle of the African American Soldier in World War I

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.

Image: Caption follows
Emmett J. Scott.
Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War, 1919.
New York: Arno Press, 1969.
Humanities and Social Sciences Division. (7-2)

This "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." It also documents other civilian activities including the work of the Red Cross, the Young Men and Young Women's Christian Association, and the War Camp Community Service. Carter G. Woodson and Alice Dunbar Nelson collaborated with Scott in the preparation of this volume.

Sharing the African American Cultural Heritage Abroad
"803rd Pioneer Infantry Band, No. 16"
803rd Pioneer Infantry to Battalion on the U.S.S. Philippines (troop ship) from Brest, France, July 18, 1919.
Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6163 (7-5)

During World War I many black troops were eager to fight but most provided support services. Only a small percentage were actually involved in combat. Yet, the African American presence in France--helping in any capacity--often elicited overwhelming gratitude from the French. Both the French and the American troops enjoyed listening to African American bands who sometimes introduced blues and jazz rhythms previously unknown to their listeners. This is a 1919 photograph of the 803rd Pioneer Infantry Band on board the U.S.S. Philippines in Brest Harbor, France.

Jazz Master James Reese Europe

African American regiments in World War I were usually accompanied by bands. The most famous was the band of the 369th Infantry, led by James Reese Europe, a prominent musician whose syncopated style animated the dancing of Vernon and Irene Castle, creating a craze for social dancing. These army bands became immensely popular in France, both among American troops and the French public, introducing many Europeans to jazz and ragtime rhythm and African American performance styles. Vaudeville star Noble Sissle, who belonged to Europe's band in war and peace, prepared this biography of Europe, who was murdered soon after the war by a crazed band member. The Memoirs include much information about the racial climate in the U.S. and France.

Image: Caption follows

Noble Lee Sissle.
Memoirs of "Jim" Europe.
Carbon copy of typescript
ca. 1942.
Music Division. (7-17)

True Sons Of Freedom
Charles Gustrine.
"True Sons of Freedom."
Color-offset poster.
Chicago, 1918.
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-2426 (7-1)

More than 350,000 African Americans served in segregated units during World War I, mostly as support troops. Several units saw action alongside French soldiers fighting against the Germans, and 171 African Americans were awarded the French Legion of Honor. In response to protests of discrimination and mistreatment from the black community, several hundred African American men received officers' training in Des Moines, Iowa. By October 1917, over six hundred African Americans were commissioned as captains and first and second lieutenants.

Guinn V. United States--One Victory During the Quest

One of the many methods used to keep African Americans from voting was the grandfather clause, which held that a man could only vote if his grandfather had voted. Poll taxes, literacy tests, voting fraud, violence, and intimidation also proved effective means of barring African Americans from the ballot box.

The NAACP successfully fought against grandfather clauses in court. In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Guinn v. United States that the grandfather clauses in the Maryland and Oklahoma constitutions were null and void, because they violated the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Image: Caption follows

Guinn v. United States.
Board minutes, June 3, 1913.
Document. Typescript.
NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division. (7-19) Courtesy of the NAACP

Another NAACP Victory
In the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1916 [No. 231]. Charles H. Buchanan v. William Warley.
NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division. (7-20)
Courtesy of the NAACP

In order to keep people of color out of their neighborhoods, cities called for racial restrictive covenants that segregated housing. The NAACP attacked this practice in the courts in the case of Charles Buchanan v. William Warley. In the 1916 decision, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an ordinance mandating that African Americans live in certain sections of Louisville, Kentucky. As a result of this case, whites resorted to private restrictive covenants, in which individual residents agreed to sell or rent only to whites, and de facto housing segregation continued.

Mary Church Terrell and the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs

In this report Mary Church Terrell recounts her role as founding president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, a confederation of black women's service clubs dedicated to instilling racial pride. Founded in 1895, the group was intent upon improving social and moral conditions in the African American community. The organization founded settlement houses for migrant women, orphanages, day nurseries, kindergartens, evening schools for adults, clinics, and homes for the aged. The group advocated the abolition of sexism and racism, actively supported voting rights for all including women, and promoted the anti-lynching crusade.

Image: Caption follows

Mary Church Terrell.
What the National Association [of Colored Women] Has Meant to Colored Women.
Transcript, undated.
Mary Church Terrell Papers, Manuscript Division. (7-6)

Charting Discrimination

World War I and Postwar Society:   Part 1 | Part 2

Exhibit Sections:
Slavery | Free Blacks | Abolition | Civil War | Reconstruction
Booker T. Washington Era
| WWI-Post War | The Depression-WWII | Civil Rights Era |

African American Odyssey Introduction | Overview | Object List