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tv   African American Soldiers during World War I  CSPAN  November 7, 2018 9:48pm-10:04pm EST

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legislation funding the federal government, passed december 7 deadline. the senate returns for votes on coast guard programs, and a nomination for the federal reserve board. watch the house life on c-span and the senate live on c-span too. -- too. next on american history tv, historian adriane lund smith talks about african- americans involvement in world war i, and racial tensions in the military during that time. the centerpiece was about 15 minutes. >> adriane lund smith, what was the experience of black soldiers -- adriane lentz- smith, what was the expertise of black soldiers during world war i? >> we should say first, there were roughly 385 thousand 385,000 african-americans in the world time -- wartime army, about 200,000's of them traveled overseas. of those 40,000, they were combat troops. and another
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160,000 did, mainly labor. the folks who wrote home about their experiences, some with the labor battalion, and some from combat units, they talk about two things. they talk about the difficulty of fighting for democracy, so to speak. in a jim crow army. and, they talk about the investment of many of their fellow white soldiers in making sure that they don't have rising expectations for their own citizenship rights after world war i. but they also talk a lot about how francis opened up the world for them in a variety of different ways. their experience with french people, fighting alongside colonial troops of color, for a segment that was sort of given over to the french army for the
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duration of the war, fighting under commanders who don't have the same kind of investments in american whites the primacy. often, it made them realize that the war could be and in some places was you use the term jim crow army, can you explain what you mean by that, the army was up until it really was the late 1940s and in many instances after,, african-american troops were in segregated units and they had by and large white officers, there was a tiny handful of black officers who went to a segregated officers training camp but the military leadership was so opposed to the idea of
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having black officers that the officers were often demoted mood -- moved to be in charge of labor battalions and most soldiers served beneath that leadership . how are they treated in the u.s. >> in the united states, there were camps all over the u.s., but especially in southern camps during this period, you see a lot of tension, as white southerners and local towns, they were worried about the effect that black soldiers might have on the populace, they were very worried on the effect that black soldiering might have on the jim crow order of segregation. in the lead up and the base leading to american mobilization, you have people like the mississippi senator arguing strongly against
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conscription in general.but in the case of african-americans, come on guys, if we put a gun in people's hands and tell them to fight for democracy, it's a really short step from them thinking they should come home and do the same thing. so he understands that people like him understand the kind of danger that the black military service would potentially pose to jim crow. in other places you see the way that the tensions play out. so, in houston texas for example, in 1917, the early months of american involvement in the war, the army sends a unit, a unit of black infantry troops, regular troops, people who are career soldiers, who had been in prior to the war, to guard a camp being built on the edge of town. local houstonians are
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very nervous about what it means to have uppity african- americans coming in to disrupt things. they insist that the military policeman will go through town not armed, and they are not allowed to carry guns. this comes at a moment in the fourth war in august, when local houston policeman start assaulting and beating up african-american women in their homes, he drags her onto this street because she talk back to him and is getting ready to throw her in a paddy wagon to be arrested, to go to jail, and african-american soldier steps in to say excuse me, what's happening and then the police turn on him and he and his partner beat up the soldier,
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they put him in the paddy wagon and send him off to jail as well. when another soldier, later in the day comes and tries to inquire about what has happened to his colleague, he got to anza beat up by the policeman -- he ends up beat up also by policeman, and the policeman say we are running things not the [ null ] . the second soldier is sent to jail, no one is quite sure what happened to him at camp logan, rumors that he is dead, he's been killed, fly around the camp. rumors that a white mob is now about to attack the camp and ultimately the soldiers are so incensed and concerned for their own safety that a small segment of them sees arms from
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the supply tent in the camp and march on the town, vowing vengeance on the police officers of houston who then, carrying out these kinds of abuses over the several weeks that the soldiers have been in residence. this is an incredibly tragic outcome for all parties involved. they do end up killing five policeman, including one of the policeman involved in the earlier encounter with the african-american woman. they end up shooting another 10 or so folks, including a child, mexican day labor asleep in a boarding house, a bullet cuts through and it's incredibly tragic and an awful story across the board. the military court-martial's
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many of the soldiers, not even quite sure at this point because the records are fuzzy but they court-martial a handful , try them in san antonio texas and before anyone has ever even known that the trial is over, they have executed them and place them in unmarked graves in san antonio. the community is heartbroken and upset. it's really difficult to write about houston. we don't condemn what the soldiers did and we certainly understand the kind of despair and rage that moves them to act in the first place. >> when the soldiers returning from war, does how they are treated change? >> no. in some ways, having houston is
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opening story of african- american involvement in military service, it's all a little of what will come afterwards, in terms of the white americans committed to white supremacy, working to use means, violent and otherwise to make sure that soldiers don't think that loyal service brings just compensation. so, soldiers return from france weary because the war is an awful war , but also incredibly disillusioned and heartbroken by the realization that the service does not simply earn them respect, it incites a reaction to keep them that more insistently in their place. what they are met with, upon returning is a wave of racial violence that sweeps across so fully in the summer of 1919 at
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james robin johnson, labels it the red summer of 1919. so, there are a number of riots defined by white terrorism and mob violence. the most famous are probably washington d.c., chicago, 1919, a lot of them are concentrated in the summer but people talk about the long red summer ending with a ride in 1921. then, you also get the lynching of soldiers, 10 or 11 african-american soldiers in uniform. again, horrific and symbolic way of saying, do not
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think that the war for democracy was your war for american democracy, that's not what it was and that's not what we wanted to be. >> so, where does this fit into the larger civil rights movement? >> it was an important moment in the 20th century, in the history of the long civil rights movement. for all of the intensity of white reaction and the insist since of white supremacists, the word means nothing but it did mean a number of things and one thing that it did not to give the war he decided to call the war a war for democracy and gave it a charge for the nation. whether he meant to or not, he opened up a door and after this
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for a number of rights, women's rights, african-american rights, immigrant rights, he gave away into charging the u.s. to be the democracy that it purported to be and one of the world to see that it was. it brought an international spotlight onto a domestic freedom struggle. african-americans recognize that the use of that and would continue to use it over the next several decades, so that one folks strategically delegitimize the term white supremacy, they draw on a strategy from world war i, when they used the spotlight of the cold war to charge american freedom, to be something that it had not been using a strategy they had learned in world war i. even more than that, what you see with african- american soldiers and people, family members who embrace their cause, you see a
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crystallization of a political consciousness, understanding again that jim crow is a particular formation of racialized power that does not have to exist no matter how the proponents claim it is natural, you have people that say we went to france and we saw different things me on system that on our behalf. we have folks that learned the sad lesson that is deserving, performing or offering loyalty, when world war ii appears on the horizon that they start mobilizing ahead of time to make sure they get rights out of the war, they demand the rights and have the language for it and an organization for
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before they give themselves over to the war effort. that's the kind of strategizing and organizing and militancy that is a product of any lesson from the earlier war. >> thank you for speaking with us. >> >> you're welcome, thank you for talking to me. >> congress returns on tuesday, november 13. the house is back to work on legislation funding the federal government passed a december 7 headline. >> in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television company. today, we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress.
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>> next on american history tv, three authors discuss the new books, we hear about personal accounts of tank warfare, po doubles the best pows on the eastern front and world war i memorial in france built to remember american soldiers. >> thanks again for coming, the focus this year, and i've read all the books and they are really good, i don't necessarily have more spare time but i love to read history

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