The Harlem Hellfighters of World War I
via the SOFREP Media Group web site
At the time of World War I, the American military was heavily segregated, with prejudice that African American men would not do well in defending the country. Those African Americans who wanted to enlist and fight for their country had to go through so much before they were finally allowed to register and serve. The military and the federal workforce had been desegregated to a certain extent, especially in the navy which had black enlisted sailors going back to the American Revolution, but the election of Woodrow Wilson(D) in 1912 reimposed strict segregation on the military and federal employees, reversing many of the gains made since the end of the Civil War.
At the beginning of WWI, the United States under President Woodrow Wilson declared that their country would remain neutral. However, this changed when the German U-boat began to attack passenger ships and ocean liners, including the British Lusitania. The breaking point was when they found out that the Germans were proposing an alliance with Mexico to include Mexico invading the United States to capture California, New Mexico, and other western states. And so, when the US declared war on Germany in 1917, the War Department decided to accept black Americans in the draft as they needed a lot of troops. With that, the registration was flooded with 2 million new recruits.
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Of those new recruits, 375,000 were African Americans. Although 200,000 of them were transported overseas in the war, the majority of them did not see active combat duty. Instead, they worked in labor duties of support roles like unloading ships, constructing roads, buildings, and erecting latrines. They were barred from the Marines and could only serve in menial roles in the Navy, and none of them were ever allowed in the aviation units.
The government did not also provide military training for black officers. Soon, segregated training camps were created for that purpose. The dishearted black Americans protested against the unbelievable discrimination they were receiving, even though they only wanted to be part of those who stood for their country. Regardless, Fort Des Moines in Iowa still became one of the segregated camps where 600 blacks were commissioned as captains and lieutenants at the camp.
It was not until early 1918 when a regiment of African-American combat troops arrived to help the French Army, the 369th Infantry Regiment.
Read the entire article on the SOFREP web site.
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