“Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day.” ~ Congressman Charles B. Rangel
In honor of Veterans Day, the Rediscovering Black History blog would like to commend those African Americans who served in the Armed Forces.
The National Archives holds numerous photographs of African Americans serving in both World War I and World War II. These images depict black soldiers in training, interacting with other soldiers, and at victory parades. The photographs of African American men and women involved in the World Wars can be found in RG 44 Records of the Office of Government Reports, RG 111 Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, RG 165 Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, and RG 208 Records of the Office of War Information.
World War I
When the United States joined the Great War in Europe, more than 350,000 African American men enlisted in the military. They served in segregated units, primarily in supporting roles. Black men were assigned to the cavalry, infantry, and artillery units serving as chaplains, surveyors, and truck drivers. Although African American soldiers were limited to service in menial positions, there were a few predominate black troops that played a significant role in the war. These units included the 369th Infantry Regiment (“Harlem Hellfigthers”), 371st Infantry Regiment, Butchery Company, No. 322, Engineer Service Battalions, and Labor Companies.
Images from World War I
World War II
Over 2.5 million African Americans served in World War II. They were assigned to various low-level tasks and duties, while still serving in segregated units (such as the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the “Triple Nickles”). Several African Americans stood out during the war for their heroics and promotions to higher ranks. Some of the noteworthy black men were: Dorie Miller, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Frederick C. Branch. Also, during this war, there was a greater presence of African American women gained a greater presence as they served in segregated women’s auxiliaries in the field. Black women, including Phyllis Daley, Harriet Ida Pickens, and Frances Wills made history during World War II in their roles as nurses and as officers.
Images from World War II
Tribute to NARA Employees and Family Members who Served
On November 5, 2015, the Afro-American History Society sponsored a Veterans Day commemoration, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Oscar Barbarin, Chair of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The title of the presentation was “Life After World War II, Veterans Who Survive Injury.” During the program, several National Archives employees shared personal pictures and related documentation of themselves or family members who served in the military.
Below is a list of selected resources that highlight NARA records relating to African Americans in the World Wars:
- Desegregation of the Armed Forces, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library
- “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson”, Prologue article by John Vernon
- Pictures of African Americans During World War II, compiled by Barbara Burger
- “Documenting African Americans in the Records of Military Agencies”, Prologue article by Lisha Penn
- A list of all the other blogs in Rediscovering Black History that relate to African Americans in the military can be found here