...The Treatment of Negro Soldiers in Camp
Men from the South Sent to Northern Camps to Face a Hard Winter---Attempts at Discrimination Against Negro Soldiers and Officers---Firm Stand of the: Secretary of War Against Race Discrimination---General Ballou's "Bulletin No. 35"---Members of Draft Boards Dismissed for Discrimination Against the Race.
The treatment of Negro soldiers in the various camps and cantonments of the country was a subject much discussed during the war. Reports of discrimination against colored soldiers because of race and color were heard upon all sides and at times the colored people were greatly exercised when alleged situations of a particularly outrageous character came to their ears. The morale of the race was at times lowered to a degree that was little short of dangerous. Prompt and vigorous action, however, on the part of officers high in command led to a correction of many of the evils complained of, and in this way countless episodes pregnant with the possibility of serious clashes and violent conflicts were happily adjusted and no end of trouble thus averted.
Before going into the analysis of a number of exceptionally trying instances
of color discrimination---incidents that more than once attracted nation-wide
attention---it might be well to make note of the manner in which the colored
troops were apportioned throughout the country. As was perfectly natural,
by virtue of the immense Negro population, the South furnished the bulk
of the colored men called through the selective draft law. If the unwritten
custom of assigning men to the camps nearest the place from which they were
drawn had been carried out to the letter, the camps in Mississippi, Alabama,
Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina would have been made up in many cases
almost exclusively of Negro soldiers. For this reason, and to prevent concentration
of over-large contingents of colored soldiers at any one camp,---a policy
frankly decided upon long before the Special
It was unjust, but not strange, that there should be many attempts at discrimination against Negro officers and soldiers in many of the camps, particularly those in the South, and in other sections where white soldiers from the South were brought into contact with colored troops. Prejudice, based on race, was something too deeply implanted in the mental fabric of an element of the American people, it seemed, to be overcome over night through any pressure the war might bring to bear. Clashes between white and colored soldiers happened North and South, after a sporadic fashion, but at no time were their clashes so general or persistent as to endanger the well-being of the Army as a whole.
In many sections of the South violent protests against the quartering
of colored troops were registered with the War Department, and the Governors,
Senators, and Representatives of more than one State filed formal objections
with the President of the United States and the War Department, insisting
that Negro troops be not stationed at the camps within their borders. The
War Department steadily declined to be moved by these protests and pursued
unhesitatingly its practice of stationing units of
The Houston Episode
The unfortunate episode at Houston, Texas, in 1917, which precipitated a so-called "race riot," in which were involved a number of the soldiers of the 24th Infantry, Regular Army, had its origin in the prejudice of a portion of the citizens of Houston against Negro soldiers, and the reciprocation of this dislike by the colored soldiers themselves. The clash that took place in that city in August, 1917, marked the beginning of the end of the disorder that had obtained throughout the earlier months of the stay of the colored troops at Houston, for afterwards, when the Eighth Illinois Regiment came to Camp Logan from Chicago and the West, there were but few ebullitions of race feeling between the whites and the men of the Eighth. The execution of thirteen of the colored soldiers implicated in the Houston riot was one of the dark spots on the escutcheon of the Army, but it did not dampen the ardor of the colored men who went to the front for the Stars and Stripes. They realized that neither the meanness of those who fomented the riot, nor the undue haste that led to the summary execution of the soldiers convicted of being guilty of murder and mutiny, was typical of the feeling of the great body of the American people, nor of even the large majority of Southern white people of real influence and standing.
Incipient race riots were reported at frequent intervals at various stations,
North and South. Of these, mention might be made of the magnified reports
of a fracas said to have occurred between Negro soldiers and the police
at Newport News, Virginia, in September, 1918, and of other affairs of no
great seriousness that were reported at Camp Upton, Camp Merritt, Camp Grant,
At Camp Grant, Illinois, General Thomas H. Barry, Commanding General, faced this question as soon as it was presented. A newspaper reporter started a campaign of inquiry among certain of the white soldiers to ascertain whether or not they meant to salute colored officers. The question began to run through the camp, but this reporter was challenged by General Barry in the presence of others to cease his activity. The General plainly stated that in that particular camp the Commanding Officer designated by the War Department alone was in command, without the aid of journalistic helpers, and that the only color recognized in Camp Grant was to be the "O. D." the olive drab of the Army uniform.
How General Bell Acted
At Camp Upton, New York, General F. Franklin Bell met a similar situation without hesitation:
"Now, gentlemen," said he, "I am not what you would call 'a Negro lover.' I have seen service in Texas, and elsewhere in the South. Your men have started this trouble. I don't want any explanations. These colored men did not start it. It doesn't matter how your men feel about these colored men. They are United States soldiers. They must and shall be treated as such. If you can't take care of your men, I can take care of you; and," said he in conclusion, "if there is any more trouble from your men you will be tried, not by a Texas jury but by General Bell, and not one of you will leave this camp for overseas. " And he thus dismissed them.
General Bell was talking to white officers of a Southern regiment that came to Camp Upton. The remarks quoted above followed a fracas between white soldiers of this Southern regiment and colored soldiers whom the white soldiers attempted to throw out of the Hostess House, while he was Commanding General there.
At Camp Lee, Virginia, General Adelbert Cronkhite was re-
"I met some junior officers who said they were not keen on saluting Negro officers. They would not feel that way if they understood the spirit of the salute. If one of them came from a town where there was an old Negro character, one of those old fellows who do odd jobs around and is known to everybody, he'd at least nod his head and say, 'Howdy, uncle.' Now, suppose through some freak of nature this old Negro should be transplanted into an officer's uniform; the salute would be merely saying to him 'Howdy, uncle, in a military way."
It is fair to say that General Cronkhite disavowed responsibility for the appearance of a certain article in the Richmond Times Dispatch and said that he had never made a statement in the way it was quoted in the article. He explained, however, that "the idea involved in this statement expressed in becoming language is the expression of my idea and was not based on any special case," whatever that may mean! General Cronkhite also said that his statement was not an official one and had not therefore been published by him in the official bulletin of the command.
Attempts at segregation were charged against the Quartermaster's Depots at Chicago and at St. Louis, where color discrimination was alleged in the matter of appointments, promotions, and working conditions, and where unfairness was said to exist in the withholding from the colored employees of the use of toilet facilities, as well as restrictions in the service of the depot restaurants, cafeterias and the like. Whenever these cases were called to the attention of the War Department they were carefully inquired into, to develop the facts. In more instances than the Special Assistant can now recall, remedial action was taken by the officials in charge of the stations under criticism. Discriminating orders were rescinded, restrictions modified, and favorable interpretation of ambiguous regulations was secured in many of .the cases that came to the War Department.
Illustrations in Chapter VIII
Gen. Ballou's Bulletin No. 35 at Camp Funston
Perhaps no single incident in the camp life of the Army attracted so
large a measure of attention at the hands of the
The issuance of the Bulletin came about because of the refusal of the manager of a theater at Manhattan, Kansas, to admit a sergeant of the 92d Division, because of the possible objection of his white patrons.
The interpretation placed upon the order by most people was that General Ballou requested and indirectly "ordered" that Negro officers and soldiers refrain from exercising their prerogatives as citizens in the matter of attending places of public amusement or recreation, if their presence seemed offensive to the white patrons of such resorts and likely to provoke racial friction. The colored press was particularly bitter and many newspapers pronounced the "order" an "insult" to the Negro race. At various public gatherings of colored people General Ballou's resignation as commander of the 92d Division was demanded, and at no time during his incumbency as the bead of the Division was General Ballou able to regain the confidence of the colored masses, with whom be had been immensely popular prior to this episode, in recognition of his valued and sympathetic services as supervisor of the Officers' Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, from which came 639 colored men, graduating with commissions as captains and first and second lieutenants.
The full text of "Bulletin No. 35," as issued by General Ballou was as follows:
Headquarters 92d Division,
Camp Funston, Kans., March 28, 1918.
"1. It should be well known to all colored officers and men that no useful purpose is served by such acts as will cause the 'color question' to be raised. It is not a question of legal rights, but a question of policy, and any policy that tends to bring about a conflict of races, with its resulting animosities, is prejudicial to the military interest of the 92d Division, and therefore prejudicial to an important interest of the colored race.
"2. To avoid such conflicts the Division Commander has repeatedly urged that all colored members of his command, and especially the officers non-commissioned officers, should refrain from going where their
presence will be resented. In spite of this injunction, one of the sergeants of the Medical Department has recently precipitated the precise trouble that should be avoided, and then called on the Division Commander to take sides in a row that should never have occurred had the sergeant placed the general good above his personal pleasure and convenience. This sergeant entered a theater, as he undoubtedly had a legal right to do, and precipitated trouble by making it possible to allege race discrimination in the seat he was given. He is strictly within his legal rights in this matter, and the theater manager is legally wrong. Nevertheless the sergeant is guilty of the GREATER wrong in doing ANYTHING, NO MATTER HOW LEGALLY CORRECT, that will provoke race animosity.
"3. The Division Commander repeats that the success of the Division with all that success implies, is dependent upon the good will of the public. That public is nine-tenths white. White men made the Division, and they can break it just as easily if it becomes a trouble maker.
"4. All concerned are again enjoined to place the general interest of the Division above personal pride and gratification. Avoid every situation that can give rise to racial ill-will. Attend quietly and faithfully to your duties, and don't go where your presence is not desired.
"5. This will be read to all organizations of the 92d Division.
"By command of Major-General Ballou:
(Signed) "ALLEN J. GREER,
"Lieutenant Colonel, General Staff,
"Chief of Staff."
Commenting in an editorial of the issue of April 13, 1918, upon the order as issued by General Ballou, The Advocate, a colored newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio, printed the following:
GENERAL BALLOU'S ORDER.
Major General Ballou has just issued an order to the Colored men of his division which is, to say the least, "extry."
In part, the order calls for the exercise of care on the part of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers and men of the division in shunning places where they have reason to believe that their presence will be resented. It is an apparent appeal for lessening the "racial issue" controversies.
The order might possibly be considered "perfectly harmless" and of the "vaudeville type" of monologues if it were not for the paragraph, "White men made possible the division, and white men can break it up."
We expected better than this of Major General Ballou in this day of
bitter warfare when the President is calling upon all America---white and black, we presume---to rally to the Flag and help to crush "the foe of humanity.
We can only urge our race to forgive General Ballou, "he knows -not what he says."
WE ARE NOT IN FAVOR OF THE MEN OF ANY DIVISION SEEKING TO STIR UP "RACIAL STRIFE." We feel that NOW IS NOT THE TIME for injecting any such issue into the already overcrowded portfolio of Uncle Sam.
Let us help "lick the Kaiser" FIRST and then thrash out our local difficulties.
We do not want to be classed in the President's list of "creatures of. passion, disloyalty and anarchy," therefore let us say "shoo fly" to General Ballou's "undiplomatic paragraph."
Now, all together---let's get the Kaiser!
Many similar expressions of resentment appeared in the Negro press.,
A news report, sent out shortly after the, issuance of the Ballou Bulletin No. 35, preliminary to the publication of a letter sent by General Ballou to me, in response to my request for a statement that might give the purpose that prompted the Commander of the 92d Division to issue the bulletin, said:
"It transpires that while Major General C. C. Ballou, of the 92d Division, was addressing the men under him through Bulletin No. 35, he was at the same time pressing the prosecution of the theatrical manager who had discriminated against a sergeant of the Division.
"The prosecution of the manager of the Wareham Theatre for discrimination on account of color, instigated at General Ballou's request, was, after being twice continued, tried in Police Court at Manhattan, Kansas, a few days ago, and resulted in the conviction of the defendant and the imposition of $10 and costs. It is generally assumed that the conviction of the theatrical manager will serve to prevent a repetition of the offense, and will deter other theater owners and managers from making discrimination on account of color. General Ballou followed the same course here as he did at the Officers Training School at Des Moines, Iowa, last summer, namely: while admonishing his men to refrain from precipitating racial disturbances, to prosecute those who should discriminate against his men."
General Ballou's letter to the author said:
Headquarters 92d Division,
Camp Funston, Kansas, April 22, 1918.
My Dear Mr. Scott:
I have your request that I make a brief statement relative to Bulletin No. 35, these Headquarters. There seems to be no good reason why I should not do so.
Here are the preliminary facts:
A soldier of this Division got into trouble with a theater manager at Manhattan and reported it to me. I at once ordered an investigation, placed the facts before the Division Judge Advocate and was informed by him that the theater manager had violated the law. I then put the case in the hands of the United States Attorney and requested the prosecution of the theater manager. The case was set for April 22d. I then issued Bulletin No. 35, which, in brief, is counsel to my soldiers to avoid race troubles. This Bulletin was given out to the colored press of the country, accompanied by an entirely misleading letter that not only completely suppressed all mention of any prosecution of the theater manager, but directly and falsely conveyed the impression to editors and readers that I had not done so. The most prejudiced person will, I think, at once see that this was a malicious attempt to stir up race feeling by misrepresentation.
GOOD ORDER AND MILITARY DISCIPLINE FOUNDATION STONES.
The character of Bulletin No. 35 was that of advice, as already stated. ,This advice was ordered published to the Division. It had nothing to do with any policy of segregation, or with any policy outside of the military establishments. Its purpose was to prevent race friction, with the attendant prejudice to good order and military discipline. Good order and military discipline are the foundation stones of the military service. They are indispensable. Nothing connected with the service of the colored troops has ever been so threatening to good order and discipline as race troubles have been, and it is well-known that our enemies have sought to profit by this fact ever since there was a prospect of war. No stone has been left unturned. There have always been foes of our country ready to aggravate the grievances of the colored people on the one hand and to stir up the whites on the other. It was no mere coincidence that the East St. Louis atrocities occurred in a city filled largely with German sympathizers.
There is little doubt that the same influence egged on both whites and blacks at Houston. Most troubles have small beginnings. At Houston they grew from the fact of colored soldiers entering cars reserved for whites, and other similar matters. Great wrongs were eventually committed on both sides, culminating in the killing of a score or more of white people
and the hanging of thirteen Negroes. In the midst of all the feeling and excitement caused by the East St. Louis and Houston troubles, the colored officers' training camp at Fort Des Moines won golden approbation all over the United States, made thousands of friends for the colored race and achieved a glorious success. It did all of this by following precisely the advice that was repeated to the 92d Division in Bulletin No. 35.
"BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM."
Our enemies do not wish the United States to have its military power increased by colored soldiers, and they stand ready to add fuel to every race discord in order to embarrass our country as much as possible in this war. Is it any wonder then, in view of what the enemy has accomplished in the past and is seeking to accomplish again, that the Commander of the colored Division seeks to nip troubles in the bud, and while prosecuting white men for their offences against his soldiers, urges the soldiers to do their part to keep the peace and promote harmony.
I have shown that my position and action were deliberately and maliciously misrepresented to the colored people by the suppression of the news of my prompt prosecution of the theater manager, and by falsely conveying the impression that I had taken no such action. The entire letter that accompanied Bulletin No. 35 to the press of the colored people was a misrepresentation of my attitude and of the facts in the case, and no fair-minded person, when the facts are known, as stated above, can fail to see the work of an enemy---an enemy of our country and an even greater enemy to the colored race. Is the colored race going to "fall" for such schemes? I think not. I think they will contrast the work of the trouble-maker with the solid achievements of the colored officers' training camp at Fort Des Moines and of the 92nd Division, and consider thoughtfully the words---"By their fruits ye shall know them."
C. C. BALLOU,
Major-General, Commanding 92d Division.
Baker Against Discrimination
Early in the summer of 1918, a flood of complaints reached the War Department
from many of the camps, the burden of which was that the Negro soldiers
were being grossly mistreated by their white officers, ofttimes physically
assaulted, called by names that were highly insulting-such as "nigger,"
"coon," "darkey," and worse, and that the colored men
were forced to work under the most unhealthy and laborious conditions, with
a certain penalty
Besides the complaints growing out of unfair treatment of colored men in the camps numerous instances of unequal standards and straightout discrimination in the operation of the selective draft law were reported as being practiced by the draft officials in several States, particularly in the South. The claim was made, and almost invariably substantiated by reliable testimony, that colored men, palpably unfit for military service, and others who were entitled to exemption under the law, were "railroaded" into the army while other men with no legitimate excuse for exemption were allowed to escape the requirements of the draft system. The situation reached such a stage, by reason of the growing disregard for fair play and the honest interpretation of the law, that Secretary Baker felt called upon to check the infractions by Exemption Boards and the, unfair treatment of Negro soldiers in the camps by issuing a clean-cut statement to the effect that "the War Department will brook no discrimination, based upon race or color," and that all instances of unfairness in the Army on this score would meet with speedy correction, with adequate punishment for all violators of the military regulations bearing on the rights and privileges of soldiers.
As indicating the general attitude of some Army officers in carrying
out the instructions of the War Department, there may be mentioned the particular
attitude of certain officers in charge of .units of the so-called Labor
Battalions. The pressure from colored people throughout the country and
from other sources as well became so strong that the War Department found
it necessary to issue a certain memorandum changing the former decision
(which called for white sergeants) to a decision which required that the
non-commissioned officers in the Reserve Labor Battalions should be "all
white or all colored" instead of "white." The effect of this
immediately was to eliminate in many camps the colored men who were serving
as non-commissioned officers and to substitute
It was a situation of this character which inspired the uncompromising memorandum of the Secretary of War to the Special Assistant under date of November 30, 1917, of which this paragraph stands as the "keynote":
"As you know, it has been my policy to discourage discrimination against any persons by reason of their race. This policy has been adopted not merely as an act of justice to all races that go to make up the American people, but also to safeguard the very institutions which we are now, at the greatest sacrifice, engaged in defending, and which any racial disorders must endanger."
It will be noted that the same fundamental principle of simple justice to all defenders of the flag was reiterated in the interview made public July 1, 1918, when it seemed that the earlier proclamation failed to prove as effective as the Secretary of War had hoped it would be in wiping out color proscription in the army. In consequence of the firm stand of Secretary Baker against discrimination against colored men on the part of draft boards, several offending members of these boards were separated from their positions, and in one notable instance in Fulton County (Atlanta), Georgia, an entire Exemption Board was summarily removed, upon proof of improper manipulation of the Selective Draft Law in its application to colored registrants.
In keeping with the insistence upon a "square deal" for all,
there came a marked improvement in the morale of the camps where much trouble
had been made for colored soldiers through the petty meanness practiced
by the so-called "Military Police." Reports had come into the
War.-Department in immense volume to the effect that there was increasing
friction between colored soldiers and the Military Police, in charge of
order and general discipline in the camps. Colored soldiers complained that
they were kept more closely confined to the camps than were white soldiers;
that they had the greatest difficulty in obtaining passes to go to town
or to visit relatives, and that they were punished more severely than were
white soldiers for trivial offenses. The "bad blood"
A further evidence of the potency of the rigid policy of the War Department to stamp out as far as was possible the evil of race prejudice on the part of officers in their relation to colored soldiers, is found in the case of Captain Eugene C. Rowan, of the 162d Depot Brigade, with headquarters at Camp Pike, Little Rock, Arkansas. Upon positive proof, adduced by evidence given before a court-martial, Captain Rowan was found guilty of willful disobedience of the orders of a superior officer and was ordered by the War Department to be dismissed from the service. The case attracted more than ordinary attention because of the fact that it was the first instance wherein the color question had figured in an action against a white officer of the Army in a National Army court of inquiry. Captain Rowan was charged with having refused to obey an order issued by the Brigade Commander, Colonel Frederick B. Shaw, calling for a troop formation, because, it was asserted, both colored and white soldiers were included in the formation. The defense attempted to justify Captain Rowan in his disobedience of explicit military orders on the ground that he was a native of Georgia, had long resided in Mississippi, and that in keeping with his own personal feelings and a definite promise made to his men, he did not desire to give any order that would compel white men to "lower their self-respect." The dismissal of Captain Rowan followed his conviction by the court-martial, and the judgment of the Army tribunal was promptly sustained by the War Department at Washington.
A number of other cases are on record where white officers were separated from the service for discrimination against colored soldiers and for unwarranted acts of cruelty in dealing with them.
Chapter IX. Efforts to Improve Conditions
Table of Contents