Kimball WV memorialThe Kimball World War Memorial Building, as seen here in 2019, was built in 1928 to honor Black World War I veterans. 

West Virginia town home to first memorial honoring Black WWI vets

By Rick Steelhammer
via the Williamson Daily News newspaper (WV) web site

KIMBALL, W.Va. - The roots of America's Veterans Day observance can be traced to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when a cease-fire went into effect, ending hostilities in World War I.

More than 4 million U.S. military personnel took part in ''The War to End All Wars." That number included more than 350,000 Black Americans - 1,500 from McDowell County, West Virginia, which would become home to the nation's first and only memorial building honoring Black Americans who served in the war.

Black soldiers and sailors of the World War I era were part of a segregated military and had to fight for respect before they could fight the Germans.

African American units sent to Europe initially were assigned to behind-the-lines support roles, rather than combat. While those jobs were crucial to the war effort, they prevented Black soldiers from proving their mettle under fire. But as casualties increased and pressure from African American political and civic leaders mounted, two all-Black infantry divisions were created. To lead them, more than 600 Black enlistees were commissioned as officers after completing training at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

That group included Daniel Ferguson, who grew up in Fayette County, graduated from Charleston's Garnet High School and attended the West Virginia Collegiate Institute - West Virginia State University's forerunner - before enrolling at Ohio State University. There, he earned bachelor and master's degrees and set school records as a member of OSU's track team.

Ferguson took leave from his teaching position at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute to enlist in the U.S. Army as a private in October 1917. After being commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, he commanded a machine-gun training company through the end of the war, then returned to the faculty at what would become WVSU and taught sociology and economics classes. He later served as dean.

Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, was opposed to assigning Black infantry units to operate with white troops. To avoid doing so, he assigned the first four Black infantry regiments, to arrive in France in late 1917 and early 1918, to the French army, which had earlier asked for U.S. troops to replace its casualties.

More than 40,000 Black U.S. soldiers were assigned to the French army and were immediately deployed to front-line positions. One such Black regiment spent 191 days at the front - five days longer than any other American unit - and its soldiers collected 171 Croix de Guerre medals for bravery. By the time the war ended, Black soldiers fighting with the French had earned more than 500 Croix de Guerre medals. 

Read the entire article on the Williamson Daily News web site.

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