Com­mit­tee talks im­por­tant role of blacks in WWI

Black men fought for free­dom, abroad and on the home­front

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

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.

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