Portal Spotlight: World War I

In 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany and entered the Great War, African Americans were supportive. The patriotic spirit of the era encouraged Black men and women to enlist in the military, in order to fight for freedom and democracy. Although their patriotism was just as great as their white American counterparts, African Americans experienced unequal treatment by serving in segregated units, receiving subpar training, and earning less pay.

soldiers marching in columns down NY street
NY’s Black Regiment Leaves for Training Camp Marching up Fifth Avenue, Feb. 1918 (NAID 45503132), RG 165

The war front was not the only significant aspect of American history that intersected with Black lives during the World War I era. The mass movement of African Americans started a couple of years prior to the outbreak of the Great War. The Great Migration allowed southern Blacks to escape segregation, violence, and the limited educational and employment opportunities of the South. After the conclusion of the Great War, the US erupted in the Red Summer, and throughout the years African Americans sought out better employment opportunities and expressed themselves and their culture in new ways. All of these aspects are covered in the new World War I portal for the Black History Guide.

This subject portal highlights records of Federal agencies and collections that relate to Black life during the World War I Era. The selected records contain information on various topics, which include work; military involvement; arts, intellectuals, and entertainment; racial violence and the Great Migration.

2 women and a man in front of an old car wagon with The Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels printed on the side
African American agents and rural nurse with the Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels, 1923 (NAID 512801) RG 16

The portal highlights several individuals, including Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, Mary Church Terrell and Jack Johnson. It also includes links to National Archives, other government, and non-government resources related to this era. This subject portal is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide guidance to researchers interested in African Americans during the Great War years and their relation to the Federal government.

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