In a Segregated Military, the African American Armored Unit That Helped Patton Check the German Advance, Close the Rhine Ring, and Spearhead a New Postwar Army
Known primarily for being the first African American armored unit to see combat in World War II and as future baseball star Jackie Robinson’s onetime outfit, the 761st Tank Battalion was forged in a devil’s cauldron of heat and prejudice at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Here, most viewed the tankers as tokens in a racial experiment, rather than as fellow American soldiers who would actually be deployed to fight a common enemy. Led by a small cadre of white and black officers, the 761st trained to the pinnacle of its craft. The Black Panthers, as they soon were called, proved their battle prowess against other units bound for combat on the parched Texas training fields. For this, they earned a coveted assignment to fight under General George S. Patton and go head-to-head with the best of Hitler’s arsenal. Moving to the front in November 1944, trial by fire soon shook the unit to its core. Ambushed by a veteran German force, the 761st suffered heavy casualties in the confusion as they cut their way out of the trap. But the men rallied to overcome self-doubt and vindicate their losses. Quickly battle hardened, the tankers saw intense combat through November and when Germany launched its last-ditch offensive through the Ardennes in December, the 761st fought side-by-side with Patton’s Third Army. Moving swiftly, the unit helped check the German advance, cut resupply routes to the forces surrounding beleaguered Bastogne, and drove the enemy back, recapturing towns crucial to the final defeat of Germany.
In The Black Panthers: A Story of Race, War, and Courage—the 761st Tank Battalion in World War II, historian Gina M. DiNicolo tells the full and unvarnished history of this important American fighting force. Relying on extensive archival research, including documents that had not been consulted in previous accounts, and interviews with surviving soldiers and family members, the author describes the unit’s training, deployment, combat, and individuals, such as Sgt. Ruben Rivers, one of only seven African American men awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II heroism. The professionalism, dedication, and courage of the 761st and other non-white units made clear that the strength of the American army in the future lay with integration—one of the enduring accomplishments of these servicemen.
We commonly think of the American Revolution as simply the war for independence from British colonial rule. But, of course, that independence actually applied to only a portion of the American population—African Americans would still be bound in slavery for nearly another century. Alan Gilbert asks us to rethink what we know about the Revolutionary War, to realize that while white Americans were fighting for their freedom, many black Americans were joining the British imperial forces to gain theirs. Further, a movement led by sailors—both black and white—pushed strongly for emancipation on the American side. There were actually two wars being waged at once: a political revolution for independence from Britain and a social revolution for emancipation and equality.
Gilbert presents persuasive evidence that slavery could have been abolished during the Revolution itself if either side had fully pursued the military advantage of freeing slaves and pressing them into combat, and his extensive research also reveals that free blacks on both sides played a crucial and underappreciated role in the actual fighting. Black Patriots and Loyalists contends that the struggle for emancipation was not only basic to the Revolution itself, but was a rousing force that would inspire freedom movements like the abolition societies of the North and the black loyalist pilgrimages for freedom in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.
In a bold departure from previous scholarship, Le’Trice D. Donaldson locates the often overlooked era between the Civil War and the end of World War I as the beginning of black soldiers’ involvement in the long struggle for civil rights. Donaldson traces the evolution of these soldiers as they used their military service to challenge white notions of an African American second-class citizenry and forged a new identity as freedom fighters willing to demand the rights of full citizenship and manhood.
Through extensive research, Donaldson not only illuminates this evolution but also interrogates the association between masculinity and citizenship and the ways in which performing manhood through military service influenced how these men struggled for racial uplift. Following the Buffalo soldier units and two regular army infantry units from the frontier and the Mexican border to Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines, Donaldson investigates how these locations and the wars therein provide windows into how the soldiers’ struggles influenced black life and status within the United States.
Continuing to probe the idea of what it meant to be a military race man—a man concerned with the uplift of the black race who followed the philosophy of progress—Donaldson contrasts the histories of officers Henry Flipper and Charles Young, two soldiers who saw their roles and responsibilities as black military officers very differently.
Duty beyond the Battlefield demonstrates that from the 1870s to 1920s military race men laid the foundation for the “New Negro” movement and the rise of Black Nationalism that influenced the future leaders of the twentieth century Civil Rights movement.
Eagles on Their Buttons is a fascinating examination of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry, United States Colored Troops—the Union Army's first black regiment from Ohio. Although the Fifth USCT was one of more than 150 regiments of black troops making up more than 10 percent of the Union Army at the end of the war, it was unique. The majority of USCT regiments were made up of freed men who viewed the army as an escape from slavery and a chance to take up arms against their former masters. The men serving in the 5th USCT, however, were freemen who were raised in a northern state and saw serving in the army both as a way to gain equal rights under the law and as an opportunity to prove their worth as men.
Because historians have written little on this subject, many Americans believe that African Americans simply received their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation. They know nothing about the struggles these courageous people endured to gain their independence. Now, by incorporating personal documents, letters, diaries, and official records, Eagles on Their Buttons sheds important new light on this unfamiliar aspect of the Civil War. Versalle Washington shows what caused the soldiers in the Fifth USCT to join their regiment, what sort of men they were, and how they fought and lived as African American soldiers under white officers. He discusses the regiment's service, addressing its role in the siege of Petersburg, the battle of Chapin's Farm, and the capture of Fort Fisher and the port of Wilmington. Washington also looks at what effects the soldiers' service had in terms of societal changes following the Civil War.
Eagles on Their Buttons is a fresh contribution to Civil War scholarship and will be welcomed by professional historians and amateur Civil War buffs alike.
This book is part of the University of Missouri Press' Shades of Blue and Gray series.
In 1898, in an era of racial terror at home and imperial conquest abroad, the United States sent its troops to suppress the Filipino struggle for independence, including three regiments of the famed African American "Buffalo Soldiers." Among them was David Fagen, a twenty-year-old private in the Twenty-Fourth Infantry, who deserted to join the Filipino guerrillas. He led daring assaults and ambushes against his former comrades and commanders—who relentlessly pursued him without success—and his name became famous in the Philippines and in the African American community.
The outlines of Fagen's legend have been known for more than a century, but the details of his military achievements, his personal history, and his ultimate fate have remained a mystery—until now. Michael Morey tracks Fagen's life from his youth in Tampa as a laborer in a phosphate camp through his troubled sixteen months in the army, and, most importantly, over his long-obscured career as a guerrilla officer. Morey places this history in its larger military, political, and social context to tell the story of the young renegade whose courage and defiance challenged the supremacist assumptions of the time.
For many of the 200,000 black soldiers sent to Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, encounters with French civilians and colonial African troops led them to imagine a world beyond Jim Crow. They returned home to join activists working to make that world real. In narrating the efforts of African American soldiers and activists to gain full citizenship rights as recompense for military service, Adriane Lentz-Smith illuminates how World War I mobilized a generation.
Black and white soldiers clashed as much with one another as they did with external enemies. Race wars within the military and riots across the United States demonstrated the lengths to which white Americans would go to protect a carefully constructed caste system. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric of self-determination but battered by the harsh realities of segregation, African Americans fought their own “war for democracy,” from the rebellions of black draftees in French and American ports to the mutiny of Army Regulars in Houston, and from the lonely stances of stubborn individuals to organized national campaigns. African Americans abroad and at home reworked notions of nation and belonging, empire and diaspora, manhood and citizenship. By war’s end, they ceased trying to earn equal rights and resolved to demand them.
This beautifully written book reclaims World War I as a critical moment in the freedom struggle and places African Americans at the crossroads of social, military, and international history.
The monument by Augustus Saint-Gaudens to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, located on Boston Common, stands at a symbolic crossroads of American history. A reminder of the nation's ongoing struggle over race, it captures the Civil War's higher purpose—the end of slavery—and memorializes those black soldiers and white officers who made common cause in the service of freedom. The monument and the saga of the 54 th Massachusetts remain powerful touchstones, inspiring enduring meditations such as Robert Lowell's poem "For the Union Dead" and the popular film Glory.
This volume brings together the best scholarship on the history of the 54th, the formation of collective memory and identity, and the ways Americans have responded to the story of the regiment and the Saint-Gaudens monument. Contributors use the historical record and popular remembrance of the 54 th as a lens for examining race and community in the United States. The essays range in time from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and encompass history, literature, art, music, and popular culture.
In addition to the editors and Colin Powell, who writes about the memory and example of the 54th in his own career, contributors include Stephen Belyea, David W. Blight, Thomas Cripps, Kathryn Greenthal, James Oliver Horton, Edwin S. Redkey, Marilyn Richardson, Kirk Savage, James Smethurst, Cathy Stanton, Helen Vendler, Denise Von Glahn, and Joan Waugh.
Alice Kaplan University of Chicago Press, 2007 Library of Congress D810.N4K37 2007 | Dewey Decimal 940.5403092
No story of World War II is more triumphant than the liberation of France, made famous in countless photos of Parisians waving American flags and kissing GIs as columns of troops paraded down the Champs Élysées. But one of the least-known stories from that era is also one of the ugliest chapters in the history of Jim Crow. In The Interpreter, celebrated author Alice Kaplan recovers this story both as eyewitnesses first saw it, and as it still haunts us today.
The American Army executed 70 of its own soldiers between 1943 and 1946—almost all of them black, in an army that was overwhelmingly white. Through the French interpreter Louis Guilloux’s eyes, Kaplan narrates two different trials: one of a white officer, one of a black soldier, both accused of murder. Both were court-martialed in the same room, yet the outcomes could not have been more different.
Kaplan’s insight into character and setting creates an indelible portrait of war, race relations, and the dangers of capital punishment.
“A nuanced historical account that resonates with today’s controversies over race and capital punishment.” Publishers Weekly
“American racism could become deadly for black soldiers on the front. The Interpreter reminds us of this sad component of a heroic chapter in American military history.” Los AngelesTimes
“With elegance and lucidity, Kaplan revisits these two trials and reveals an appallingly separate and unequal wartime U.S. military justice system.” MinneapolisStar Tribune
“Kaplan has produced a compelling look at the racial disparities as they were played out…She explores both cases in considerable and vivid detail.” SacramentoBee
Winner, 2006 Illinois State Historical Society Book Award Certificate of Excellence
Recipient, 2007 Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award
Knocking Down Barriers is the memoir of a life spent making a difference. In 1940, when Truman Gibson reported for duty at the War Department, Washington was like a southern city in its seemingly unalterable segregation and oppressive summer heat. Gibson had no illusions about the nation’s racism, but as a Chicagoan who’d enjoyed the best of the vibrant Black culture of prewar America, he was shocked to find the worst of the Jim Crow South in the capital. What Gibson accomplished as an advocate for African American soldiers—first as a lawyer working for the secretary of war, then as a member of Harry S. Truman’s “Black cabinet”—fueled the struggle for civil rights in the American military.
A University of Chicago Law School graduate, Gibson took his fight for racial justice to the corridors of power, arguing against restrictive real estate covenants before the US Supreme Court, opposing such iconic military figures as Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall to demand the integration of the armed forces, and challenging white control of professional sports by creating a boxing empire that made television history. Filled with firsthand details and little-known stories about key advancements in race relations in the worlds of law, the military, sports, and entertainment, Gibson’s memoir is also an engaging recollection of encounters with the likes of Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Patton, Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis. Winner of the 2006 Illinois State Historical Society Book Award Certificate of Excellence, Knocking Down Barriers illuminates social milestones that continue to shape race in the United States today.
When Abraham Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he not only freed the slaves in the Confederate states but also invited freed slaves and free persons of color to join the U.S. Army as part of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), the first systematic, large-scale effort by the U.S. government to arm African Americans to aid in the nation’s defense. By the end of the war in 1865, nearly 180,000 black soldiers had fought for the Union. Lincoln’s role in the arming of African Americans remains a central but unfortunately obscure part of one of the most compelling periods in American history. In Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops John David Smith offers a concise, enlightening exploration of the development of Lincoln’s military emancipation project, its implementation, and the recruitment and deployment of black troops.
Though scholars have written much on emancipation and the USCT, Smith’s work frames the evolution of Lincoln’s ideas on emancipation and arming blacks within congressional actions, explaining how, when, and why the president seemed to be so halting in his progression to military emancipation. After tracing Lincoln’s evolution from opposing to supporting emancipation as a necessary war measure and to championing the recruitment of black troops for the Union Army, Smith details the creation, mobilization, and diverse military service of the USCT. He assesses the hardships under which the men of the USCT served, including the multiple forms of discrimination from so-called friends and foes alike, and examines the broad meaning of Lincoln’s military emancipation project and its place in African American historical memory.
Hundreds of African American soldiers and regimental employees represented Wisconsin in the Civil War, and many of them lived in the state either before or after the conflict. And yet, if these individuals are mentioned at all in histories of the state, it is with a sentence or two about their small numbers, or the belief that they all were from slaveholding states and served as substitutes for Wisconsin draftees. Relative to the total number of Badgers who served in the Civil War, African Americans soldiers were few, but they constituted a significant number in at least five regiments of the United States Colored Infantry and several other companies. Their lives before and after the war in rural communities, small towns, and cities form an enlightening story of acceptance and respect for their service but rejection and discrimination based on their race. Make Way for Liberty will bring clarity to the questions of how many African Americans represented Wisconsin during the conflict, who among them lived in the state before and after the war, and their impact on their communities
World War II shaped the United States in profound ways, and this new book--the first in the Legacies of War series--explores one of the most significant changes it fostered: a dramatic increase in ethnic and religious tolerance. A Nation Forged in War is the first full-length study of how large-scale mobilization during the Second World War helped to dissolve long-standing differences among white soldiers of widely divergent backgrounds.
Never before or since have so many Americans served in the armed forces at one time: more than 15 million donned uniforms in the period from 1941 to 1945. Thomas Bruscino explores how these soldiers' shared experiences--enduring basic training, living far from home, engaging in combat--transformed their views of other ethnic groups and religious traditions. He further examines how specific military policies and practices worked to counteract old prejudices, and he makes a persuasive case that throwing together men of different regions, ethnicities, religions, and classes not only fostered a greater sense of tolerance but also forged a new American identity. When soldiers returned home after the war with these new attitudes, they helped reorder what it meant to be white in America.
Using the presidential campaigns of Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 as bookend events, Bruscino notes a key change in religious bias. Smith's defeat came at the end of a campaign rife with anti-Catholic sentiment; Kennedy's victory some three decades later proved that such religious bigotry was no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Despite such advances, Bruscino notes that the growing broad-mindedness produced by the war had limits: it did not extend to African Americans, whose own struggle for equality would dramatically mark the postwar decades.
Extensively documented, A Nation Forged in War is one of the few books on the social and cultural impact of the World War II years. Scholars and students of military, ethnic, social, and religious history will be fascinated by this groundbreaking new volume.
In 1863, as the Civil War raged, the escaped slave, abolitionist, and novelist William Wells Brown identified two groups most harmful to his race. “The first and most relentless,” he explained, “are those who have done them the greatest injury, by being instrumental in their enslavement and consequent degradation. They delight to descant upon the ‘natural inferiority’ of the blacks, and claim that we were destined only for a servile condition, entitled neither to liberty nor the legitimate pursuit of happiness.”
“The second class,” Brown concluded, “are those who are ignorant of the characteristics of the race, and are the mere echoes of the first.” Four years later, Brown wrote the first military history of African Americans, The Negro in the American Rebellion. This text assailed those whose hatred and ignorance inclined them to keep blacks oppressed after Appomattox.
This critical edition of The Negro in the American Rebellion, one of Brown’s least-analyzed texts, is the first to appear in more than three decades. In his introduction, historian John David Smith identifies the text’s Anglo-American abolitionist roots, sets it in the context of Brown’s other writings, appraises it as military history, analyzes its interpretation of black masculinity and honor, and focuses closely on Brown’s assessment of contemporary racial tensions.
Largely ignored by scholars, The Negro in the American Rebellion, Smith argues, is a powerful transitional text, one that confronted squarely the neo-slavery of the Reconstruction era.
“Whites,” Brown wrote, “appear determined to reduce the blacks to a state of serfdom if they cannot have them as slaves.” His important text was a call to arms in the ongoing race struggle. Smith’s analysis, framed within recent scholarship on slavery, emancipation, and African American participation in the U.S. army, is long overdue.
Historian Timothy L. Schroer's Recasting Race after World War II explores the renegotiation of race by Germans and African American GIs in post-World War II Germany. Schroer dissects the ways in which notions of blackness and whiteness became especially problematic in interactions between Germans and American soldiers serving as part of the victorious occupying army at the end of the war.
The segregation of U.S. Army forces fed a growing debate in America about whether a Jim Crow army could truly be a democratizing force in postwar Germany. Schroer follows the evolution of that debate and examines the ways in which postwar conditions necessitated reexamination of race relations. He reveals how anxiety about interracial relationships between African American men and German women united white American soldiers and the German populace. He also traces the importation and influence of African American jazz music in Germany, illuminating the subtle ways in which occupied Germany represented a crucible in which to recast the meaning of race in a post-Holocaust world.
Recasting Race after World War II will appeal to historians and scholars of American, African American, and German studies.
Born into slavery on a Tennessee plantation, John McCline escaped from bondage, worked for the Union Army in the Civil War, and eventually found a new life in the American West. Slavery in the Clover Bottoms is his own story, recollected in later years, of his life as a slave and as a free man.
McCline’s memoirs, completed in the 1920s and now published for the first time, vividly describe the James Hoggatt plantation in Davidson County: the work and routine of slaves; their religious, family, and social life; the behavior of the overseers; and the atmosphere of violence under Mrs. Hoggatt’s omnipresent whip. McCline tells of how he worked with livestock, a boy doing a man’s job, until he ran away with the Thirteenth Infantry of Michigan late in 1862, when he was little more than ten years old. For the next two-and-a-half years, young John worked as a teamster and officers’ servant, and during that time he witnessed some of the Civil War’s most famous battles—such as Murfreesboro, Chickamauga Creek, and Lookout Mountain—as well as Sherman’s march through Georgia.
McCline worked in Michigan, Chicago, and St. Louis after the war. He eventually made his way to Colorado, where his skill with horses helped him find employment with James John Hagerman, whose son Herbert would later be appointed governor of New Mexico Territory. McCline lived in Santa Fe from 1906 until his death in 1948 and became a leader in that city’s black community. During that period Herbert Hagerman encouraged McCline to write his memoirs and contributed an introduction that also appears in this volume. Jan Furman’s introduction puts McCline’s story in context, and her notes to the text clarify references.
Slavery in the Clover Bottoms joins an important body of newly published slave narratives. It provides a vast amount of firsthand detail about slavery and the Civil War and is particularly notable for presenting a former slave’s perspective on Sherman’s march. Its compelling story spans a continent and tells us much about relationships between the races in the middle and late nineteenth century.
Called upon for the first time to render military service outside the States, Negro soldiers (called Smoked Yankees by the Spaniards) were eager to improve their status at home by fighting for the white man in the Spanish-American War. Their story is told through countless letters sent to black U.S. newspapers that lacked resources to field their own reporters. The collection constitutes a remarkably complete and otherwise undisclosed amount of the black man’s role in—and attitude toward—America’s struggle for empire.
In first-hand reports of battles in the Philippine Islands and Cuba, Negro soldiers wrote from the perspective of dispossessed citizens struggling to obtain a larger share of the rights and privileges of Americans.
These letters provide a fuller understanding of the exploits of black troops through their reports of military activities and accounts of foreign peoples and its cultures.