tv African Americans and World War I CSPAN December 27, 2017 5:44pm-6:43pm EST
>> next a discussion on how world war i impacted african-americans. saje matthews believes that -- this discussion is about an hour. >> now, the national world war i museum and memorial with the world war i centennial produced an education letter that focuses on the best resources available to teachers and learners. those that are created here like the videos of these symposium lectures. which will later be available both on cspan but also our youtube channel. if this is your first symposium, you can go back on to our youtube channel and see some of our previous lectures, as well.
but we also focus on those excellent educational resources of our partners like the national archives, stanford history education group and our most recent newsletter addressed americans all. and how in our diverse nation groups and individuals affected the war and were affected by it. associate professor of history at the university of minnesota will be speaking to just that. african-americans and the promise of 1917. dr. matthews specializes in 20th century american and african-american history with an emphasis on race, war, globalization, immigration, social movements and political resistance. keep your eyes peeled. she's got a new book that will be coming out, the glory of their deeds, a global history of
black soldiers and the great war era. a former fellow for research in black culture, harvard's w.e.b. institute among others. she has also graced the stage of the famous fitzgerald theater, minnesota historical society. so help me welcome her to our stage this afternoon, dr. sage matthew. [ applause ] >> good afternoon and thank you for being here and thank you, laura, for that wonderful introduction. i'm new to the club so i have to embrace the reality that i can't get as much done without them. i think most people really want glasses until they actually need them and then it's not so fun. so my name is sage matthew, as mentioned. and this afternoon, i will be moving at quite the pace. so that i can squeeze everything
in our 45 minutes and have plenty of time for questions. i welcome them. so if they pop up as i speak, do write them down. lafayette, we are here. african-americans and the promise of 1917. one of the enduring myths about the great war, both at the time and in contemporary literature is the idea that african-americans did not, in fact, think very much about or care about world war i. or at the least they didn't until late 1917 or 1918. and that is absolutely not true. part of this seductive appeal of believing african-americans just hadn't thought about the war at all fits into the notion that they were either too simple or too naval gazing to really care about what was happening abroad. in point of fact,
african-americans had been writing extensively about the great war as early as 1914, even before the war itself breaks out. so they're already starting to keep an eye on what's happening and reporting about it extensively and regularly in the african-american press. before i move any further, i want you to remember that first and foremost, african-americans are americans. something that we forget far too frequently. so this afternoon, i hope to hit on these main areas. first, the import of the war for african-americans, how african-americans thought about and talked about the war globally. how for them it was then a local war. this idea of a french utopia and an enrapture with france and the cost of war for african-americans. what do i mean when i say african-americans are first and foremost americans? like other americans, they, too,
wondered whether peace was a viable path. they wondered and questioned what exactly was their duty as americans but also as african-americans, did they have any actual duty in this imperial conflict between european kissing cousins. how? the war, should they support it, should we as a nation get into it, how will that war derail the civil rights work that african-americans were involved in even before 1914. so this would have included in particular challenges to jim crow laws and by 1915 african-americans are pouring their resources, their money, their attention, their educated young people into fighting in particular the grandfather clause and obstructions to the vote. pivotal
importance of jim crow in american life. it's important for us to remember that by the time that the great war begins in europe, th jim crow is about 20 years old. so we're talking about this first generation of african-american men who are born and raised under the jim crow's jack boot, if you will, and what do we make of them? the other thing that african-americans are thinking about are things like the reality that we're -- they're rounding the 300th anniversary of the first africans encounter
with the americas, they're thinking very carefully, and writing about 50 years since the end of the civil war, and in some respects reconstruction and it's failed possibilities. they're talking about -- they're looking at the end of slavery in puerto rico, they're talking about -- to a lesser extent but none the less, it's happening, the end of the war of 1812 and 1814, where there too there were promises. there are especially concerned with american encroachment in the caribbean, especially in the case of haiti. they're thinking locally and globally, probably the thing that dominates african-american concern in this era is the spread of racialize d violence. a parent in terms of -- it comes
to define -- the additional practice of racial terrorism that deeply concerns african-american african-americans is the macabre practice of lighting african-americans on fire. arson is a problem, but lighting of black people on fire in particular, these are the kinds of things we're talking about therefore an important backdrop. >> even before african-americans suited up for war, they were aware of area black people involved in the grade war in
particular, african soldiers who are normally referred to as tivai senagali. . they're concerned about them, about black people in the caribbe caribbean. these men articulating these political concerns are known by a term that web de boyce coins the man on your right while this is a term that will come into greater use after the war, nonetheless it really captures this sense of urgency for a lot of african-americans. african-americans talked about
the naacp are in their stage of infancy at this time it's important for us to remember that so too -- for these men and women that are professionally trained, elite educated. the newspaper will become an important way of legitimizing and explaining the war, but also legitimizing and explaining their professional voices as these intellectual activists. the manning on your left makes everyone else seem soft. he becomes a thorn in woodrow wilson's side, because he holds the president's feet to the fire he is in particular known for opposing -- questioning the terms under which african-americans will enlist in
the war but really coordinating an international campaign to quash the release of a birth of a nation. the homage to a clan that comes out in 1915 one of my favorite quotes, he writes this before the united states enters the war. he says absolute loyalty in arms and civil duties need not for a moment -- for african-americans like other americans, they will say against the accusations that they lack patriotism, they lack a robust understanding of a citizens duty to their nation. he will say instead it is precisely because i understand the true meaning of patriotism that i say my country must listen to our urgent needs, and
must respond in exchange for our support. this is exactly what women are doing. let's be clear war is a perfect time for concessions, at least to ask for them, because you're needed. it's true. it's totally true. another person who is -- a describer as a little lady who packs a punch ida b. wells made the case for urgency and the lynching long before her counterparts understood. ida w. wells is a journalist who is writing about the war, writing about this crisis both physical -- in the case of wells
and de boyce in particular, though not exclusively, it's important for us to represent that they have connections overseas. they went to school overseas or lectured overseas. they're able to tap into those alliances to find out what's happening in europe, to find out what humanitarian losses this next picture is of african-american journalist who are gathering at a conference in d.c., and trying to outline what will be the key issues that they press with the president. you'll notice that they are -- there are in the front row, some soldiers already there. w.e.b. de boyce and trotter are at the center of this
photograph. woodrow wilson has one of his many conniptions and decides he will no longer come to the white house to air their grievances. he also refuses to hear or have an audience with de boyce in particular, but african-americans at large. my second point was this question of a global war, and what does it mean for african-americans. this particular cartoon captures perfectly for me, how african-americans fought globally, and used this global language to reflect back on the case of the african-american experience. this is from the crisis magazine, and the script that was on the bottom and too small for you to see, i just retyped.
we could be of more use to you n now. it makes clear for an interest in african-americans an absolute understanding of what's happening an indictment of what's happening in the belgian congo before. a warning for americans what have could happen here in their own time of need, right? there are a few countries that african-americans talked about repeatedly up to 1917 and used these as platforms for a sublimation of their own concerns. this of course in addition to a genuine humanitarian concerns in the case of belgium,
african-american activists would say that in some respects what the germans were doing to the belgiums was a coupumupance tha was long overdue. this kind of brutal exploitation was the very essence of a belgian moral and spiritual decay. and that is what americans if they did not pull back from their commitment to racialize terrorism. for many african-americans, south africa is its close second. we see a lot of comparable editorials calling attention to the brutality that south africans and especially the separatists are starting to do
in that little pocket at the bottom of africa. poland and ireland are frequent guests in part because they will hold on to those two countries in particular, as kind of a hope for an independent successful for an otherwise oppressed europeans. they'll talk about how they're europe's negroes. this language is especially important in the case of poland and ireland. it's religious and in some instances ethnic in the case of poland. russia is very important for african-americans prior to 1917. the mat earns of pilgrims that
occurred leading up to the war. this becomes a place where it seems possible to topple the impossible so for african-americans, it will become a way of talking about what they might want to consider for themselves. finally, a matter that african-americans take up as early as the 1990s. i have a separate piece on that in particular, there are so many echos between the experience of african-americans and armenians including this bizarre practice of lighting people on fire. african-americans pool very limited resources, and create eastern programs or campaigns to help these europeans.
by 1957, african-americans will have a campaign to raise money to send enough baby food to take care of belgian babies for three months. they will pledge to raise $1 million for african orphans and their widows. there's this constant issue of what's happening over there. they're in artillery units. while the u.s. is still debating whether african-americans should be part of the war, african-americans will say the french have been doing this and the british for three years. why are we still talking about it. a bizarre case by the austrians
in 1917 and he's celebrated as a possibility of what can happen when you take jim crow out of the population. to take the few dollars that they do get cotton farming and to make the decision to spend them african soldiers all the way over there, and to make that decision as early as 1914 is for me again another way that african-americans start to contemplate a lot earlier and of course african-americans will talk about the caribbean as a cautionary tail. because they believe that the
united states is in fact sort of stretching itself into the caribbean trying to make it another deep south, under the distraction of war. haiti, puerto rico the panama canal zone become these hotly contested nations. the attraction are -- there's another problem, that is the british. canada was making the hard sell to great britain to have a caribbean island ideally jamaica given to them as a way to come out with a war. we got newfoundland, no fair.
canada needed its own deep south. there's a lot of concern over what to do with the vote if we have this extra island, we don't necessarily have a legal jim crow structure in the united states. americans are keeping an eye on these different spaces as the war is unfolding. one of those spaces is plans. and where african-americans are joining the war before as individuals just like other americans. eugene bullard. what's important here is that african-americans are seduced by the same language of patriotic marshall heroism as all other
americans, right? in particular, because successes like bullard's give the lie to the core compromise offered by jim crow. by segregation. when racial lines hold. violently if necessary, blacks and their inescapable inferiority will be confirmed. when eugene bullard -- what's dangerous about him, we see this healthy body decorated with awards, the very embodiment of manliness that is not supposed to happen. this is an aberration, a mistake. worst french are celebrating him. this question of black men in uniform will be such a prickly
one that after the war, we have an uptick in not just black veterans being singled out for attack they take the added precaution to board the ships before they come back to the americans. images like this would have also been problematic for many in america, these are the french elite calvary, and they are working with training with african soldiers that i mentioned earlier, roughly translated as african
sharpshooters. it's -- by war's end, at least 500,000 african soldiers will have served under the french flag alone, that doesn't even yet account for the british, the west indians, the black canad n canadians who joined the armed forces. americans enter world war i having already thought about a blackmar shall experience. here we see a picture of canada's number two construction battalion. what i'd like to say about these guys is that you're not looking at canadians, what you're looking at are largely americans. by my calculation, african-americans accounted for 40% of black men serving under the flag. and that doesn't even yet
include decen dents of african-americans who came during and after the war of 1812. this is an army that has a robust representation of west indians. from what i've seen with border -- when these men are coming, they are arrive iing largely from the detroit area, but not exclusively, many of these men are coming from georgia, florida, alabama, and citing at the border that joining the army is a correction to unemployment. so what does this mean to me? first of all, we're getting a concrete reminder that the great
migration expanded past chicago where we normally think of it. if it meant crossing borders, then they did. it didn't stay on the books for long. the spirit of that law never went away. there was a shady way of keeping these men out. canadians were not very good at identifying race, they wanted to be. and so they did -- you see on the enlistment records. i think he's black, but i'm not sure, he looks salo. so all the different words they use has become quite comical for
me. they'll describe them as yellow, not well cleaned, right? at the end of the summer. my brother would fall in that category. but it points to this desire to identify race, but inability to do it as well as the americans. bizarrely, once the ka that i had yarns mandate everyone must serve, they send head hunters down into the united states to bring bacca frayedians who moved to the united states and forcibly marched them back into canada to serve the reason cited for not wanting black soldiers are comical. including my personal favorite, they would not look good in kills. because so many were in highland units.
one over looked way african-americans had been engaging in this war, is that african-americans had been cutting across the atlantic since 1914 as mule-ateers. the men working ships mend iing caring for the horses and mules they were buying by the thousands. they were awash in black people southerners who had been keenly aware of this war. there's a great case of a sinking that i don't have time to talk about right now. there's something weird for all
of us who are historians, you're so excited. but it seems wrong. i found a sinking, 200 people died, this is going to be great. but i was definitely that happy. of course the punitive war. the quote under this particular cartoon said, uncle sam, did you send the eighth regiment to protect this country or be shot down by texans. african-americans were seasoned soldiers, so in fact in the press, what you see are these constant references to having been in the war of independence. they've been in the philippines, there is no question of their patriotism, but their marshall
harrowism, they found it quite insulting that it even took, there was any public debate about it, it took so long for the wilson administration to make firm decisions. there were approximately 10,000 career soldiers, and another 5,000 african-americans who were national guardsmen, however especially after the mutiny in houston, the united states does the exact opposite of what would seem logical, rather than take the men who had field experience. the very few american soldiers who had field experience who had some experience with the debacle rather than send them to france as the first wave, we send them to the deep parts of the philippines and the deep parts of hawaii in order to quell this concern if you taught black men to shoot, the first thing they
would do is turn those guns on to white people for african-americans, they feel this is an added insult in it the case of the punitive expedition, pershing had singled them out there had been attempts at informal integration. not something to brag about. but pershing turned the other cheek when it came to brothels. he will swing to the total opposite when it comes to france. there were some heroes he seemed like the logical choice who
could lead ideally african-american. we know that the war department would have none of it one of the concessions we get instead is this officer training camp in iowa, a location selected because it was in the middle of nowhere. 400 acres landlocked in iowa, iowa, because it had no people had no tensions. because they were in the middle of nowhere, would make it harder for white women to get to these men this becomes the embodiment of african-americans, it's not just soldiers, this is a camp where nearly 1,000 african-american medical professionals are being trained
and hoping to be in the commission. though none will be in charge of black troops. jim crow requires commitment and resources. so this is a photograph of african-american dentists who are being prepared to send over to france. when you're talking about a country that has only 478 dentists for millions of people the loss is felt greatly. it had graduated roughly 4500 people and half of all of the doctors in the country. howard was the university that sent the most medical doctors into this war. nearly 20%. the impact on the cost for
african-americans is great and for them then is the measure of the contribution. black fraternities. they're the first to respond to this call to war and the calling of the nation for officers, women respond as well while the red cross banned black women they realize they are going to need help. they ask for 2,000 black women. these were not just nurses, they were also that rare educated crust of american society. these were women who spoke french and german, and were also translators, and far more
important given their numbers. they will have 16 black nurses in france for 40,000 soldiers. what we get is a replication of a nation carefully crafted since jim crow replicated overseas, black white, black white, and not necessarily together. even the hostess huts were separated by race we have a photograph of black women at that officer training camp in
iowa, driving around, helping wounded soldiers as they find them we know that there was a lot of concern about what to do with these black men socially. if nothing else, the women are white in france, and the french are looser in every kind of way. we have a lot of photographs assure i assuring americans we can't let the french ruin our negroes. it's large, this concern about a ruin, it's about a sexual ruin an ideological or political ruin. they're especially concerned in 1917 that communists will get to the black soldiers. especially disgruntled russians who are still stuck in france. and they will start having all of these ideas. we know during the east st. louis rye anothers, there's a concern of germans and japanese,
mexican getting into african-american minds. why are we concerned about the ruin of our black people? it's in part because they're on the move. they're voting with their feet. by leaving regions where it's no longer able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. it's because bull weave el and floods have made a barely sustainable life all together impossible and the army's pay of $30 a month will be a very seductive -- will have its own seductive appeal for all the panic, it's important to remember that about 5% of african-americans left the south
in 1916 they're still largely southern rural farmers. in fact, this army's ability to pay in cash will be a reason why african-americans could not be excused. it's more than you would have made to cotton farming, you still have to go and do your bit for the nation. however -- here i wanted you to remember that the way that african-americans move will be determined by the pre-existing networks and paths available to them so the mississippi and steam ship is still the cheapest way to get out of the south.
this is in part what speeds of that migration, and get the money in your pocket for the first time. this painting really captures that promise we're talking about, it's children, old people, people with top hats and a rag on their head it's really an opportunity for african-americans to follow their dream through a migrant experience. however, 1917 is also a year of extreme violence and these are just five locations where we have race riots between may and late fall of 1917. precisely as we're asking african-americans to die for their country they're being killed in their country.
the best known is east st. louis. it's written about as a labor dispute that unions had been opposing or calling attention to the fact that they were being called strike breakers. in truth, it's much more complicated. what's more disturbing is the role women and children had in particular with the east st. louis crisis. it's estimated that 1500 african-american african-americans sped out of the region during the early days of this race riot. and the response by the local press and the government, the response of saying, if african-americans fought back, it's because the germans were
whispering in their ears, it isn't something they would have done all by themselves, they've always been happy about their oppression. this turn to a german or japanese plot, allows for a greater surveillance of african-american african-americans under the espionage act. unless it's the work of an enemy, there's not as great of an urgency. this is also a period where there's a heightened surveillance of the most vocal, it's said of hoover that he cut his teeth keeping track of and trying to silence these african-americans they're no
fools, they adopt alternative ways of making themselves heard, this is the silent parade we get in 1917 emphasis here on the word parade. they do not call it a march, to ensure it is a patriotic act and not a protest, it's a celebration of what is right, that is, the first blood for american independence was shed by negro addicts. a reminder in this long march we see. the politics of respectability. these are church women, children. they're wearing white, the color of mourning. but also a color of protection, if shot, if stabbed, you could see it well on the photographs a strategy that's continued through the civil rights movement of the 1950s.
as with other parts of society, african-american children are mobilized in support of this war we get a news boy selling war bonds. judging by his missing front teeth, he's 6 or so years old. we have posters, poems, recipes. reminders of how black women could stretch a dime into a dollar. all of the support from those communities. the committee for public information, cpi even develops a negro section for its propaganda, has black films, black posters. postcards.
like this one here, but meant to make african-americans feel like they are an important part of the moment. france, this u to bean space. 89% of african-americans who went over to france did so as laborers, when you got to france, whether you're an american or other allied forces, what you saw in these cities were all black people manning them. a tiny tiny town on the western coast there's a huge depot. and they become these con tested terrains.
these are not soft pawed men, and they're not just african-americans in the united states. 50% of longshoreman were jamaican. in the case of miami, they control the union and they're bohemian they're working those docks. these posters -- these images are in stark contrast to those targeted at african-americans. children in particular are prideful soldiers. this poster produced in 1918 but note here that the african-american 108diers are keeping the germans at bay and killing them in the dead center near the flag.
and nobody's wearing overalls or lifting a crate. this disjunction is very complicated and the press, the black press certainly addresses it. when these african-americans arrive in france, what do they encounter? a continent that has spent a lot of the war thinking about, fighting over race, including -- this was a postcard. it says that's what they call a savage over here this idea that african-americans came to france, welcomed them and was happy to see them is nonsense, the french had been using their own troops to encourage black enlistment.
the americans will arrive in the aftermath of the disastrous offensive of 1917 and where they suffered very high losses, and this idea championed by the general on the right, this idea that france's secret is its black force, its black power, the ability to call up an almost inexhaustible number of black people from the colonies who would be thrilled to do their part for the empire. the gift of language and religion. this is what they actually said. he then told africans that they had a blood oath to france, and it was there turn to stand up for a collective bloodletting.
and in fact, he said he would rather see ten black men dead to one french men opinion that is the french response. not singularly to have black people killed, but they will stop a black bullet as well as anyone else's we've been waiting for a long time for them to come. they can catch a bullet as well as anyone else we're happy that you're healthy, get in there. it's not a deep passion for americans per se. we have plenty of examples of exploitations of americans. there's a lot of reports of overcharging black people for food the germans had been crafty, and proven themselves capable in this war, pointing
out that black people were cannibals and that's what they were going to do if put on the western front. turning this language of lynching back on to americans saying, why are you fighting for these people they lynch people who look like you, we do not. you should join our side. there are already these debates about race in europe, long before the african-americans get there. when they do, they fall into some stereotypes as the happy music playing people. here we have people in a hospital and sick, in this competition of race, they put a black band together and send them on a tour as well they're like, we can do this.
we have a lot of pictures of african-americans with instruments of war. not just because fewer saw combat. but because the majority did women's work, blue collar work. cooking you can cleaning, digging toilets, cleaning toilets. that's not the stuff that gets you a vote. or can get you taken more seriously as a citizen. i will end here with these pictures. they were just two of many african-americans who earned the french bravery -- decoration for bravery in battle.
these decorations you see on their soldiers, will become a powerful measure of a failed possibility. the french recognized what the americans were all too ready to hang on a tree or light ablaze and that for many will be the real shame. the real loss of the war i promised at the beginning i would talk about the cost of fringe americans in the war. i want to end with disgenic impact of war. it usually means the gene loss we get. the money sent to support legal cases, legal challenges to jim crow cars, restaurants, unequal
pay for black teachers, instead, that gets redirected toward suiting these guys up. the rate things to keep them warm and happy. it is a strain on already limited and pleeger resources both in terms of income and food. it is a dramatic loss of that talented tenth, that generation to have made it through school. to have sat through hcbu's, to have graduated from law schools, the people, the professionals we need in order to keep up the fight against jim crow, those with the no how are left in europe. we cannot afford, and that will take entirely too long to replace.
it leads to a greater surveillance of african-american communities in new york, and, of course the war era gives us an absolute spike in lynching and race riots and those arson attacks that i talked about, such that will become the main thing that consumes african-americans. there's a tremendous amount of promise for african-americans in 1917 and that is what they carry when they cross the atlantic. you'll have to come back next year to find out what happens afterwards. thank you. we have just a short amount of time for a question. >> you had a couple references
to pershing, leading black troops all the way back to the spanish-american war. >> yes. >> what can you say about it? what were his views? >> what a mess. >> his experience with african-american soldiers even predates the spanish-american war. he was involved with the buffalo soldiers, the indian wars and the border wars even before the philippine philippines and cuba. he has a mixed experience, his white peers mock him by initially calling him niger jack. i have read this man's biographies, i read more than i ever cared to. he never expresses any particular affinity for black soldiers, neither is he
concerned or disdainful of them. he is obsessed with having a perfect army, in effect, no matter the cost, right? >> and so black dots are not a lot of it. and i think that his willingness to send black combatant troops to the french is an easy solution to his problem. no one will write about it or talk about it. the experiment is finished we can go back and say, we can't have an integrated army, you guys sucked. if they succeed, which they do then it's all the way over in france. the news never quite made it over. he gives the french what they
want, he has no regard for them certainly by world war i. >> i know there are more questions in this auditorium. the pleasure of being in the room where it happens is -- thank you for that one. you're going to have the opportunity during our break to ask those questions, i would also encourage you most of your nametags have two tickets in there to use those, or offer one of those in a conversation with dr. matthew as you ask her those questions. >> oh, you think i sell for jeep. >> this is why you don't want to be watching it on tv or online. you want to be here in person. please join me in thanking dr. sage matthew. the c-span bus tour
continues its 50 capitals tour in january, with stops in raliegh, atlanta, montgomery, on each visit we'll speak with state officials during our live washington program. join us for our stop in raliegh, north carolina, when our washington journal guest is josh stein. >> next on the civil war, john hen iscy talks about union general joseph hooker describing him as ambitious on the battlefield, one who tried to get ahead. this talk is part of generals we love to hate looking at some of the controversialea