Fighting For Respect – African Americans in World War I France 

via the Blue Lion Films web site 

Postcard imageBlue Lion Films, Inc, the authors of the award-winning documentary 'Paris Noir – African Americans In The City Of Light' has launched a new film in their series examining the African American experience in France. 'Fighting For Respect – African Americans in WWI' digs deep into the often overlooked yet compelling story of 200,000 Black soldiers willing to fight for democracy abroad while it was violently refused them at home. The film shows why this story still matters today.

The one-hour documentary challenges America's notions of patriotism, equality and citizenship. Jim Crow discriminatory laws dominated every aspect of the Black inductees' experience - from induction, in training, and in placement. In late 1917, 200,000 segregated US Army troops, including a handful of officers, were shipped across the Atlantic towards the battlefields of France. They wanted nothing more than to prove their loyalty and valor to America and the world by going to the Front. Most got no closer than toiling in the Services of Supply, gruelling labor battalions modeled after Southern chain gangs.

The lucky ones were 'loaned' to the depleted French army who trained them in trench warfare. Amid the grimness and carnage of the Western Front, these undervalued regiments performed admirably, leading to victories for the Allies. Hundreds of them earned medals of honor, including the Croix de Guerre. The most renown regiment – the 369th Harlem Infantry - musician-soldiers introduced jazz to France as they marched and so began a cultural exchange between Black America and France.

Laborers or combat soldiers, their experiences left an indelible mark on them. For the first time in their lives they were treated with respect, and it came from the French military, officials and townspeople.

Returning home in 1919, veterans expected that their services and heroism would translate to civil rights at home. Instead, they and their communities became the target of unspeakable violence waged by white supremacists during the fiery Red Summer of 1919 and beyond. But the veterans fought back.

World War One did more than transform the world at large. It led to a radicalized political consciousness at home. Testimonies from several distinguished soldiers gave traction to the fight for equal rights in America. Black leaders, intellectuals and the Black press including WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey, and Harlem Renaissance literary authors built on the growing movement for civil rights, justice and respect.

Says director Joanne Burke, “Fighting For Respect grew out of my deep passion and commitment to tell the exciting but also heartbreaking stories of African American soldiers during WW1.”

This very human story tells of their fears and hopes, their triumphs and failures. It fearlessly confronts the discounted military contribution of America's Black troops through rare archival material, letters written home from the Front, and incisive commentary from scholars. The filmmakers skillfully weave meticulous research with live walks past markers honoring African- American soldiers, through former battlefields, cemeteries, tank-strewn woods and across hills scarred by bomb craters and remaining trenches. The moving narration closes the 100 year journey since World War One with visual reflection on contemporary events and by enlisting the talents of Paris-based African-American musicians, singers, and narrators.

'Fighting For Respect – African Americans In WW1' is available for streaming, private and institutional rental and purchase: at Watch the trailer here:

Fighting For Respect – African Americans In WW1' (2021) – 60 minutes : Director Joanne Burke, Producer Phlyssa Koshland, Associate Producer Julia Browne. Blue Lion Films, Inc. is the author of the award-winning documentary 'Paris Noir – African-Americans In The City Of Light (2016)'; 9-part series of short films When African Americans Came To Paris, Parts 1 and 2; Music On My Mind: Mary Lou Williams. 

Visit the Blue Lion Films web site here:


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