Mark Whalan

in The Great War and the Culture of the New Negro

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print April 2008 | ISBN: 9780813032061
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039015 | DOI:

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This introduction provides a brief summary of the events of 1914 to 1919 to establish the key events, controversies, triumphs, hostilities, and humiliations the African Americans faced during the war. The Great War and its aftermath disclosed the worst in the American racial attitudes; however it also offered new possibilities outside the limited and selective American racial politics. Black soldiers were often drafted in greater number than white men, refused advancement, transferred, housed in inferior accommodations, court-martialed, limited to serving several branches of the services, kept in labor battalions, and refused leave. They missed out on various freedoms awarded to white soldiers and in certain cases were killed—just on the basis of their race and color. In a stark contrast, black officers led black troops in the war and black troops distinguished themselves in battle especially in units that had been brigaded with the French. Several of these soldiers experience fair treatment at the hands of the French white people which was a revelation for them. They also had an experience with European civilizations that was far removed and distant from their prewar experience. They were welcomed home as heroes, and several used their military training in the race riots that prevailed in 1919. This mass experience of the soldiers drafted overseas led to an awakening of black Americans and a modernization of African Americans. The war served as watershed for African Americans, a defining moment that caused an alteration of relations between black people. It also caused a redefining of the very notion of blackness.

Keywords: 1914; African Americans; Great War; American racial attitudes; racial politics; European civilizations; black Americans; black soldiers

Chapter.  6876 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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