Committee talks important role of blacks in WWI
Black men fought for freedom, abroad and on the homefront
On Thursday at the Charles County Fairgrounds, several organizations partnered together to reflect on the nation’s World War I centennial and the different people who impacted the war.
The World War I commemoration committee gathered to reflect on the impact African-Americans had on the war. The committee, created by members of the McConchie School and Farm Museum committee, the Maryland Veteran’s Museum and Charles County Fair Inc., spent time talking about different periods during the war over a roundtable discussion.
Kevin “Tex” Schramm, a member of the veteran’s museum volunteer committee, said African-Americans played a huge role in a “transformative moment” for the world and its history.
“Black people demanded their rights as American citizens and asserted their humanities,” Schramm said. “America was a segregated society. Despite that, there were many African-American men who were willing to serve.”
Race and discrimination was not enough to turn African-American men away from protecting the country they called home, Schramm said. One way or another, he said, every single African-American was affected by the war both positively and negatively.
For some, he said, there were jobs and opportunities that opened up for them. But for all, he said, there was still a battle against segregation and being recognized as equals that they had to overcome.
“Many people don’t associate African-Americans with World War I,” Mike Moses, a member of the Maryland Veteran’s Museum, said. But African-Americans played a large role in helping the United States and its allies come out successfully in the war on both the home front and overseas.
There were many empty jobs and positions in the north after whites moved out of their jobs to go fight in the war, Moses said. That triggered the great migration to the north, he said, and helped many black people find new jobs and keep the United States’ economy moving.
During the great migration, he said, 6 million blacks were able to move from out of the south. That created new cultures and connections for black families throughout the north and triggered movements like the Harlem renaissance, he said.
Early on, he said, only the Army permitted blacks to join their forces and enter the war. Many African-Americans went over and fought in the war, he said, but had more freedom in other countries than they did in the United States despite them fighting for their own country. That led to an adjustment period for them during their return home, he said.
“It was hard to come back and realize you could not have the same opportunity,” Moses said. “There were some hard times.”
Tina Wilson, a member of the McConchie House committee, said African-American troops celebrated the same ways that their white counterparts did when the allied nations announced their victory.
There were hundreds of thousands of African-American soldiers fighting in the war, Wilson said, all with the same goal in mind.
“They saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate to white society the willingness and ability to assume all duties and responsibilities as citizens,” she said.
Still, she said, many of them came home to the same issues they faced before. And many of their white counterparts, she said, were openly upset by the service of African-Americans in the armed forces.
In 1919, Wilson said, anti-black “race riots” erupted across the country, resulting in the lynching of at least 77 blacks across the country. At least 10 of those, she said, were veterans.
“Some of which were lynched in their own uniforms,” Wilson said.
That was a troubling and dangerous time for African-Americans across the country, she said, and racial conditions failed to improve. But still, she said, without the impact of World War I and the initiative of blacks, many black families are not where they are today.
“It brought about tremendous change for African-Americans and their place in society,” Wilson said. “The war effort allowed black men and women to assert their citizenship, hold the government accountable and oppose racial injustice. African-Americans started to demand that the nation include them as members in society.”
Tex Schramm speaks to the audience before the roundtable on African-American involvement in World War I starts in the showroom at the Charles County Fairgrounds on Thursday evening.