...Did the Negro Soldier Get a Square Deal?
Reports of Widespread Discrimination and Harsh Treatment in Camp---Many Manifestations of Prejudice by White Officers---The Question of White or Negro Officers for Negro Regiments---Higher Officers of the Army Usually Fair---Disinclination to Utilize Colored Nurses and Colored Medical Men---Secretary Baker's Efforts to Prevent Race Discrimination---Reports of Negro Observers on Conditions Overseas.
In discussing the question, "Did the Negro soldier get a square deal?" it is pertinent, first, to show the occasion for the inquiry, and, incidentally, such worthy purpose as will be served by the treatment of that question in this volume. It is a question that has been repeatedly suggested by articles and editorials, reports of war correspondents, and the like, which have appeared in the Negro press and other publications of the country, based upon information received from various sources, including letters of criticism written by Negro soldiers and officers, chaplains, Y. M. C. A. secretaries, special investigators, and others, concerning conditions among Negro soldiers in camps at home as well as overseas, and, in some cases, based upon official orders that have been issued with reference to Negro soldiers in the Army of the United States.
It is a question necessarily affecting the morale of colored Americans
which must be frankly met and impartially considered. To dodge it would
be unworthy of an honest historian whose duty it is to chronicle facts,
and might deny to the Negro race and also the Government the opportunity
of learning some valuable lessons from the war, of mutual profit not only
in the present but possibly in the future. Therefore its discussion in this
volume has a three-fold purpose: (1) To enable colored Americans to know
the truth about conditions which existed among soldiers of their race during
the war; (2) to correct certain false impressions which have been made upon
the minds and hearts of colored Americans based, in some in-
A grave mistake can be made by any one who looks only on one side of a question! While it has been the consistent policy of the Special Assistant never to condone nor minimize wrong or injustice in any form or wherever found, yet it is no less important that we should never be so completely absorbed and overwhelmed with our grievances that we cannot find time and have vision to "look on the other side of the shield," thereby gaining encouragement and strength to fight for improved conditions. Therefore, it is hoped that the frank discussion contained in this chapter will make for a better understanding between the Negro and the Government he has served so well. May it also tend toward the adoption of a better attitude and policy on the part of the Government toward the Negro soldier and citizen and, at the same time, enable colored Americans generally to properly appreciate the difficulties which were confronted, as well as the measure of justice which was attempted and meted out by the Government during the recent war, which involved the handling of millions of men.
Instances of Unfair Treatment
In view of the fact that the majority of Negro soldiers were commanded
largely by white men and the records which they will finally make will most
likely defend their own side of the, case, it will be difficult to bring
a majority of the white people of the country around to the position of
thinking that the treatment of Negro soldiers in the Army was other than
honorable. With all those who are fair-minded, however, due weight will
be given to the complainants in the case, namely the thousands of Negro
soldiers who complained and protested. It must also be remembered in this
connection that Army rules and regulations rigidly require all complaints
to be made by a soldier through regular military channels---that is through
his immediate commanding officer, and, in the very nature of the case,
In the beginning of the draft, when men were being first called to the colors, there was much apprehension among Negroes as to whether they would be treated as other soldiers in the camps. The manifest discrimination practiced by various Local Draft Boards against Negro men in many sections under the Selective Service Law, together with the almost certain knowledge that they would, in many instances, be placed under the command of white officers, some of whom at least, it was feared, would not entertain a friendly and sympathetic attitude toward them, increased their apprehension. The fact that three Local Draft Boards were peremptorily ordered removed by the Secretary of War because of their flagrant injustice to Negro draftees is in itself a "straw" which shows that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Instances upon instances can be cited to show that the Negro did not get a "square deal" in the draft; in many sections he contributed many more than his quota; and in defiance of both the spirit and letter of the draft law, Negro married men with large families to support were impressed into military service regardless of their protests and appeals, and their wives, children, and dependents suffered uncalled-for hardships. Local Draft Boards, in almost every instance composed exclusively of white men, were in a position, if so inclined, to show favoritism to men of their own race; the official figures of the draft reveal the fact that in many sections of the country exemptions were granted white men who were single with practically no dependents, while Negroes were conscripted into service regardless of their urgent need in Agriculture or the essential industries, and without considering their family relations or obligations.
Would it not have been eminently just and fair, and more in line with the spirit of the American Constitution, to have granted the Negro his rightful quota of representation on Local Draft Boards and District Boards of Appeal which passed upon matters of such vital consequence to him? This is a question which should be answered in the affirmative.
The Negro was willing to do his full share of the fighting, but
the official record shows that he was called upon to do more than his
To catalogue or specify all of the complaints that have come to the War Department, that have been published in the Negro press, and that have been contained in letters written to the relatives of Negro soldiers with reference to unfair treatment accorded them would be an almost endless task, and would consume far more space than can possibly be allotted in this volume, but a few typical ones are given herein. They include charges of harsh and even brutal treatment by some of their commanding officers and especially by white "non-coms" who were placed over them.
Colored Americans have deeply resented the "table of organization"
which denied colored soldiers the privilege of serving as non-commissioned
officers over men of their own race. It was further alleged in numerous
cases that white officers and white "noncoms" required of them
unusually hard tasks under the most trying circumstances and frequently
cursed them, beat them, domineered over them as if they were "slaves"
instead of fellows in a common cause, and applied to them all manner of
epithets and opprobrious terms such as "nigger," "darkey,"
"coon," and other more objectionable terms. A lack of medical
care and proper nursing, inferior food, clothing, and sleeping accommodations
were also alleged. In one camp in Virginia it was actually found that no
adequate facilities whatsoever had been provided for Negro soldiers who
were sick; they were huddled together, fourteen, sixteen and eighteen in
one tent, without any wooden floors in the tents, although it was in the
midst of the cold winter of 1917, and with practically no hospital accommodations.
The official record of conditions then obtaining at Camp Hill, Virginia,
conclusively proves that the Negro soldier did not get a square deal at
that particular camp, at that particular time, for white soldiers had ample
hospital accommodations, suitable barracks or floors in their tents, and
were not huddled together as were the Negro soldiers, whose abnormally high
death rate, due to
Similar disparities between accommodations provided for white and colored soldiers occurred at other camps and occasioned considerable, complaint. Perhaps, however, nothing contributed so much to friction in the Army as did the assignment of, and the wrongful attitude manifested by white "non-coms" who served in connection with Negro troops.
Comments by the White Press
Not only did the Negro press notice, and protest against various indignities visited upon Negro soldiers, but many of the white newspapers made comments thereupon. An editorial in the New York World read in part as follows:
"It is our claim that we are fighting this war to make the world safe for DEMOCRACY. Democracy implies equality of privilege and equal obligation of service. If we fight for this for the world in general we ought to be prepared to practice it among ourselves. At present we mingle democracy with discriminations. All the elements of our citizenship do not stand on the same level. But there is no way of evading the fact that under a modern military regime---one of universal service---all elements of our citizenship must stand on the same level. No distinction can be drawn in applying the military code between white soldiers and black soldiers, between white officers and black officers. They are all fighting for the same cause and deserve the same credit for doing so. Yet, only the other day a, Negro officer revisiting his home in Vicksburg, Mississippi, was counseled by friends to put on civilian clothes, for fear that he might be mobbed if he appeared on the streets in the uniform of a United States Army officer. * * * The Government is telling all Americans that they have an equal stake in the war. All are invited to put their energies and resources into a common pool. But if the enterprise is common and the burdens are common, the glory must also be common."
It has been reliably reported that Lieutenant Joseph B. Saunders, the
Negro army officer evidently referred to in the article just quoted, was
abused, knocked off the sidewalk, and set upon by certain residents or citizens
of Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he had gone to
The effort to humiliate Negro officers and to either prevent or limit their utilization in the Army assumed what appeared to be a decidedly organized form. In the first place the West Point officers' group seemed to look with resentment upon all army officers who, after a few months' intensive training in camp were awarded the same commissions for which they had had to study four years at the West Point Military Academy, and they seemed especially disinclined to regard favorably colored officers so easily elevated to their rank.
The colored people had cause to feel that there seemed to be a common understanding in many quarters that, wherever possible, the Negro officer should be discredited and that the Negro soldier should be praised only for what he did when led by white officers. To get rid of the Negro officers serving overseas, the plan was usually that set forth in the following document:
FROM: The Commanding Officer, 372nd Infantry.
TO: The Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces.
SUBJECT: Replacement of colored officers by white officers.
1. Request that colored officers of this regiment be replaced by white officers for the following reasons:
First: The racial distinctions which are recognized in civilian life naturally continue to be recognized in the military life and present a formidable barrier to the existence of that feeling of comradeship which is essential to mutual confidence and esprit de corps.
Second: With a few exceptions there is a characteristic tendency among colored officers to neglect the welfare of their men and to perform their duties in a perfunctory manner. They are lacking in initiative. These defects entail a constant supervision and attention to petty details by battalion commanders and other senior officers which distract their attention from their wider duties; with harmful results.
2. To facilitate the desired readjustment of official personnel it is recommended:
(A) That no colored officers be forwarded to this regiment, replacements or otherwise.
(B) That officers removed upon recommendation of efficiency boards be promptly replaced by white officers of like grade. But, if white officers are not available as replacements, white officers of lower grades be forwarded instead.
(C) That the opportunity be afforded to transfer the remaining colored combat officer personnel to labor organizations or to replacement units for other colored combat organizations according to their suitability.
3. Reference letter No. 616-3s written by Commanding General 157th D. I. on the subject August 21, 1918, and forwarded to your office through military channels.
(Signed) HERSCHEL TUPES,
Colonel, 372nd Infantry.
Received A. G. O.
26th Aug., 1918.
G. H. Q., A. E. F.
1st Ind. (Endorsement.)
G. H. Q., A. E. F., France, August 28, 1918.
To Commanding Officer, 372nd Infantry, A. E. F.
2. Paragraph two is approved.
3. You will submit by special courier requisition for white officers to replace officers relieved upon the recommendation of efficiency board.
4. You will submit list of names of officers that you recommend to be transferred to labor organization or to replacement units for other colored combat organizations; stating in each case the qualifications of the officers recommended.
By Command of General Pershing:
(Signed) W. P. BENNETT,
2nd Ind. (Endorsement.)
Hq. 372nd Infantry, S. P., 179, France, September 4, 1918.
To Commanding General, A. E. F., France.
1. Requisition in compliance with par. 3, 1st Ind., is enclosed herewith. Special attention is invited to the filling of two original vacancies by appointment.
In the carrying out of these apparently well-matured plans; various Negro
officers were cited to appear before Efficiency Boards, and in practically
every case the decision seemed to go against them. Those pronounced "inefficient"
were easily disposed of and when the question arose as to how their positions
might be filled there was not in France every time a sufficiency of Negro
officers in reserve for this purpose. The military staff then availed themselves
of the opportunity to make the claim that inasmuch as additional Negro officers
were not available, and white officers would not serve in the same regiment
with Negro officers, it was
In keeping with the prevailing custom at that time of discrediting Negro officers, desperate efforts were made, it seemed, to show the unusual efficiency of Negro soldiers when led by white officers, and their inefficiency when led by officers of their own race. Negro officers were often charged with "cowardice" in spite of demonstrated valor of Negro troops in all the wars of the Republic. Such a complaint was brought against four Negro officers of the 368th Infantry, who uniformly stated that they retreated only when they found themselves surrounded by barbed-wire entanglements with the enemy using machine guns with deadly effect, and when they themselves had no wire cutters and other implements necessary to extricate them from such a dangerous position. They were without maps, without hand grenades, and lacked sufficient ammunition. Their Major, a white officer supposed to be leading them, was nowhere to be found during the engagement. Two of the colored Captains, according to Ralph W. Tyler, special war correspondent---after they had gone over the top and had run into a nest of machine guns---turned back and asked for support and got the Third battalion. But they could not get in touch with their Major, who had gone to the rear "somewhere," immediately after the engagement got hot, thus preventing company commanders from connecting with him to secure orders. The Major, however, because of the failure of the engagement, under such circumstances, charged the colored officers with cowardice and inefficiency. Seemingly as a reward for his shifting the blame so successfully, he was a few days thereafter raised to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and given command of a colored regiment. Too many Negro officers and soldiers won the Croix de Guerre, Distinguished Service Medals or Crosses, etc., to lend any color to the charge that Negro officers were inefficient or cowards.
The Case of the 92nd Division
In connection with the organization of the 92nd Division, made up entirely
of colored units, a certain measure of injustice
WAR DEPARTMENT TELEGRAM.
Washington, October 26, 1917.
Camp Funston, Kansas:
The Ninety-Second Division (colored), with headquarters at Camp Funston, Kansas, will be organized at that place, and Brigadier-General C. C. Ballou has been directed to proceed with his authorized aides to that place and organize following troops from white officers, who will be directed to report to him and from colored officers and men who will be designated by you to report to him; Division Headquarters, including Headquarters Troops, Three Hundred Forty-Ninth Machine Gun Battalion, four companies, Division Trains to include: Three Hundred Seventeenth Headquarters and Military Police, Ammunition Train, Supply Motor Train, Engineer Train and Sanitary Train. Following officers of Division will be white: All officers of general and Field rank, such medical officers and veterinarians as the Surgeon-General may designate, all officers attached to Division Headquarters, except the Lieutenants of the Headquarters Troop, all Regimental Adjutants, Supply Officers, commanding officers of Headquarters Companies and of Engineer Train, Adjutants of Train Headquarters, and Ammunition Trains and Supply Officers of Sanitary Train, all captains of the Field Artillery Brigade and Engineer Regiment and aides to Brigade Commanders. You will transfer to the Ninety-Second Division the necessary colored officers and men to organize the units indicated above.
First Lieutenant T. T. Thompson, of Houston, Texas, went up against this
rule in his efforts to be appointed a Captain in the Adjutant General's
Department, and to be assigned as Division Personnel Officer of the 92nd
Division; although admittedly competent and strongly recommended by Major
General C. C. Ballou, Commander of that Division---simply because he was
a colored man whose promotion was specifically prohibited by the War Department
telegram which prescribed that a "white" man should occupy the
Headquarters Ninety-Second Division.
Camp Funston, Kansas.
April 30, 1918.
FROM: Commanding General, 92nd Division.
TO: The Adjutant General of the Army, Washington, D. C.
SUBJECT: Appointment of Division Personnel Officer.
1. It is recommended that First Lieutenant T. T. Thompson, Inf., N. A., be appointed a Captain in the Adjutant General's Department and assigned to this Division as Assistant-Adjutant to be in charge of the Personnel Section as authorized by the Tables of Organization.
2. This officer has been in charge of the Personnel work of this Division practically from the time of its organization and his work has been found to be thoroughly satisfactory, and his promotion is therefore recommended so that he may continue on his present duty with, adequate rank.
(Signed) C. C. BALLOU,
(Exhibit " B)
(A competent Negro officer, officially prohibited from promotion , in the Army, becomes discouraged and asks f , or an Honorable Discharge.)
HEADQUARTERS NINETY-SECOND DIVISION
American Expeditionary Forces
A. P. O. 766
October 21, 1918.
FROM: T. T. Thompson, 1st Lt. Inf. U. S. A.,
TO: Commanding General, 92nd Division, A. E. F.
1. Application is respectfully made herein for discharge from the Military Service of the United States. Reasons for this application may be summarized by the following notations:
(a) By S. O. 82 Hqs. 92d Division, April 25, 191S, I was detailed as Acting Division Personnel Officer.
(b) By announcement of Division Adjutant, the work of the Personnel Department was merged into and placed under the head of Statistical Officer on arrival of the Division overseas and I was designated as an assistant to the Statistical Officer.
(c) Under this arrangement other officers were placed in charge of the work which I had begun, SYSTEMATIZED, AND BUILT UP, and I was given a subordinate place. Since that time other officers have. been assigned and detailed to the department and each addition lowers me, but has not lessened my work or responsibilities.
(d) Paragraph 4, G. O. 100, G. H. Q., A. E. F., June 20, 1918, specifies that Personnel officers will also perform the duties laid down as functions of Statistical Officers. From which it appears that where a Division brings over its Personnel Officer, he is eligible to become Statistical Officer (not an assistant to Statistical Officer).
(e) G. O. 60. W. D., June 24, 1918, also contemplates that the Personnel Officer under the change of name, becomes the Personnel Adjutant. When this order was issued, another officer was designated as Personnel Adjutant and I was designated as an assistant.
2. Without questioning any of the actions above mentioned as to fairness or wisdom, I have felt that each change has advanced others and lowered me and it has discouraged and disheartened me to the extent that I cannot work with the same spirit as an officer who feels that he is getting a square deal.
3. No one has ever charged me with inefficiency. As assistant to the first Personnel Officer, my work was satisfactory in every respect, and when I afterward relieved him, my work continued to be satisfactory and was commended by the commanding general of the division.
The only conclusion I have been able to reach is that others are placed in charge of the work because I am a Negro, and under the plan of organization as promulgated in Memo. dated September 11, 1918, Headquarters 92nd Division, ineligible to be attached to division headquarters.
4. Under these circumstances, and without having had any experience in any other divisional branch of duty, I respectfully ask to be discharged.
(Signed) T. T. THOMPSON,
1st Lt. Inf. U. S. A., Assistant Personnel Adjutant.
(Official Evidence showing how the "color line" in the Army decreases the Negro's efficiency.)
HEADQUARTERS NINETY-SECOND DIVISION
Camp Funston, Kansas.
Forwarded recommending approval.
This officer (Lieutenant T. T. Thompson) was originally assigned to duty as Acting Personnel Officer, in which capacity he, did good work, and was recommended to be promoted Captain with a view to being assigned to duty as permanent Personnel Officer. This was disapproved by the War Department on the ground that the Personnel Officer should be "white."
Lieutenant Thompson was continued as an assistant, there being no other line of work to which he was so well adapted.
The ruling of the War Department made, his advancement impossible and others passed him as stated in his letter.
The result has been the discouragement and lessened efficiency of an officer of considerable promise, who has much justice on his side in alleging race discrimination.
(Signed) C. C. BALLOU,
When Lieutenant Thompson brought his case to the attention of the Special Assistant he took up the matter with the War Department, and received the following reply from the Adjutant General's office:
MEMORANDUM for Mr. Emmett J. Scott, Special Assistant to the Secretary of War.
In compliance with your memorandum request of March 10th, I have had the record in the case of Lieutenant Toliver T. Thompson carefully examined and can find no evidence of the fact that he has been discriminated against in any way.
The instructions of the Secretary of War dated October 20, 1917, which referred to the organization Of the 92d Division require,
"That the following officers of the division be WHITE:
(a) All officers of General and Field Rank.
(b) Such Medical officers and Veterinarians as the Surgeon General may decide.
(c) All officers attached to Division Headquarters except the Lieutenants of the Headquarters Troop.
(d) All Regimental Adjutants, Supply Officers, Commanding Officers of Headquarters Companies and of Engineer Train, Adjutants, of Train Headquarters and Ammunition Train, and Supply Officers of Sanitary Train.
(e) All Captains of the Field Artillery Brigade and Engineer Regiments.
(f) Aides to Brigade Commanders."
In view of the above instructions of the Secretary of War dated October 20, 1917, you will see that the recommendation made on April 30, 1918, for the appointment of Lieutenant Thompson as Division Personnel Officer was in direct violation of the above quoted orders. For this reason the recommendation was filed without action.
(Signed) P. C. HARRIS,
The Adjutant General.
March 12, 1919.
To further the project of eliminating Negro officers from the Army forever, it was reported to the Special Assistant, in a letter sent from France by Ralph W. Tyler, the accredited Negro War Correspondent of the Committee on Public Information, that Colonel Allen J. Greer of the United States Army, 92nd Division, had addressed a letter to this effect to Senator Kenneth D. McKellar, in violation of a law which would subject him to court-martial. Among other things Colonel Greer was reported as writing:
"Now that a reorganization of the Army is in prospect, and as all officers of the temporary forces have been asked if they desire to remain in the Regular Army, I think I ought to bring a matter to your attention that is of vital importance not only from a military point of view, but from that which all Southerners have. I refer to the question of Negro officers and Negro troops. The records of the Division will probably never be given full publicity, but the bare facts are facts about as follows. We came to France in June, were given seven weeks in training area instead of four weeks in training area usually allotted, then went to a quiet sector of the front. From there we went to the Argonne and, in the offensive starting there on September 26 (1918) had one regiment in the line, attached to the 38th French Corps. They failed there in all their missions, lay down and sneaked to the rear, until they were withdrawn. Thirty of the officers of this regiment alone were reported either for cowardice or failure to prevent their men from retreating ---and this against very little opposition. The French and our white field officers did all that could possibly have been done; but the troops were impossible. One of our Majors commanding a battalion said: "The men are rank cowards; there is no other word for it. During the entire time we have been operating, there has never been a single operation conducted by a colored officer, where his report did not have to be investigated by some field officer to find out what the real facts were. Accuracy and ability to describe facts is lacking in all, and most of them are just plain liars in addition."
This manifestly prejudiced statement by Colonel Allen J. Greer has been disproved in toto by men who know of the unquestioned valor of Negro troops and the high percentage of efficiency obtaining among Negro officers, many of whom have been awarded the Croix de Guerre and Distinguished Service Medals; it constitutes one of the basest misrepresentations (born of race prejudice, which he openly confesses) that were ever made concerning the efficiency and fearlessness of Negro men in the United States Army, and is in striking contrast to numerous views expressed by other American and by French officers. Colonel Greer entirely overlooked numerous citations to Negro men and officers of the 92nd Division that he had personally signed as Chief of Staff of the 92nd Division.
The Negro press, as a unit, vigorously resented Colonel Greer's insinuation that Negro officers and Negro troops were cowards and incompetents, and, in the interest of national unity and national security, hammered away at injustice and racial discrimination wherever it was shown. Typical of the attitude of the Negro press, is the following editorial comment from the facile pen of that veteran Negro journalist, John Mitchell, editor of The Richmond (Va.) Planet:
"Complaint is not made of the hardships to which our colored troops were subjected, but on account of discriminations made on account of race and color. They went over there to take a soldier's fare but they did not go over there to feel the pangs of American race prejudice in the midst of a people who made no discrimination on account of race or color."
The following statement of the Negro officers' case comes from Colonel Charles Young, a graduate of West Point, who reached the highest rank ever held by a Negro in the United States Army.
Colonel Young's Statement
"The black officer feels that there was a prejudgment against him at the outset, and that nearly every move that has been made was for the purpose of bolstering up his prejudgment and discrediting him in the eyes of the world and the men whom he was to lead and will lead in the future.
"Unpatriotic and unwarranted statements do no good and lull the country to sleep, and throw it off its guard while the effects of these statements are causing just rankling in the breasts of the Negro people who have had a new vision.
"The Negro officers know the psychology of their own race and also of the white race; but it is to be feared the latter will never know the mind and motive forces of the Negro if he imagines that this group has not had a new birth in America, whose language it speaks, whose thought it thinks for its own betterment, and whose ideals, both social, political and economic, it emulates."
Under such circumstances, therefore, with the Hun as an enemy in front and certain American army officials utilizing race prejudice as, a destructive agency against him in the rear, the Negro officer seriously suffered during the World War, and upon the return from overseas of the regiments formerly commanded by Negroes, it was most disappointing to the colored people in the various cities of this country where parades were held, to see black men led by white officers, their colored officers in many cases having been removed.
Race Discrimination Overseas
In keeping with this policy, there were many instances of color discrimination
in France. On one occasion, after an order had been issued to the effect
that certain Negro troops should be carried on the battleship "Virginia.,"
the executive officer requested the Admiral to have these troops removed
on the ground that no colored troops had ever traveled on board a United
States battleship. The Negroes were accordingly removed to a tug and
subjected to unusual hardships in being brought back to port. In certain
places where it was sometimes necessary for officers of both races belonging
to the American Expeditionary Forces to eat together, peculiar provisions
were made so as to have Negro officers report to certain quarters, or sections
of the same messroom, inasmuch as white officers refused to sit at mess
with them. There is ample evidence to show that in most cases the Negro
officers had inferior accommodations. On one occasion, in providing for
the reception of General John Pershing, the Commanding Officer of the American
Expeditionary Forces, at one of the
This order, however, was later revoked, after a firm protest by Negro officers and men, and, as a result, colored troops did appear "under arms" in General Pershing's review.
With reference to conditions existing among Negro soldiers overseas and to certain discriminations which were attempted and practiced against them, Lieutenant Charles S. Parker, of Spokane, Washington, connected with the 366th Infantry, and who was the only Negro who. served as a Regimental Adjutant in the 92nd Division, made the following statement:
"At Brest, France, a Memorandum was issued by the Commander of Zone Five, prescribing mess hours for colored officers (a) one hour earlier than the usual hour for breakfast; (b) one hour later for the mid-day meal, and (c) one hour later for the supper meal-thus requiring colored soldiers to get up one hour earlier in the morning for their breakfast and to wait until after the white officers had eaten at the other two meals. Before publishing the order, I took up the matter with my Colonel, stated the injustice of the proposed arrangement, and he approved of my taking the matter up with the Company Headquarters, at which point I had the order revoked. Thus it was that the order indicating separate hours for Negro officers and white officers to eat, was never published to our command, though a number of the colored officers had positive knowledge of its existence. Likewise, in the case of the Order directing all troops, except colored troops, to appear in General Pershing's review 'under arms', that order, like other attempted discriminations, was only revoked after an earnest protest had been made by colored officers. Also at Brest, France, an order was issued, directing that all Negro orderlies from colored units, who were stationed at Headquarters, should use the open latrines which were unsheltered and which made it very disagreeable during rainy weather, while orderlies from white units, also stationed at Headquarters, were permitted to use the sheltered latrines, When this matter was taken up and
properly protested against, the order was revoked as being a 'mistake.'
"The revocation of these orders did much toward keeping down friction between the races in the American army overseas, and I attribute their cancellation not to any particular ability on my part as a Negro Regimental Adjutant, but to the fact that my position put me in close contact with the white officers commanding troops and I was familiar with and could clearly represent to them the feelings and requirements of colored officers and colored men. This only emphasizes in my mind the wisdom and justice of appointing Negro Regimental Adjutants and Negro officers for all Negro troops, for they and they alone, can properly interpret the sentiments and needs of Negro soldiers and help maintain the highest possible morale among them."
The humiliation of the Negro in France, however, was not restricted to army circles. Military staff officers seemed to be firm in the conviction that it was necessary to prejudice the minds of the French people against the Negroes in order that they might be held down to the same status they had in the, United States. General Ervin, who succeeded General Ballou in the command of the 92nd Division---complying with the wishes of his co-workers---issued among other regulations, Order No. 40---a proclamation that Negroes should not speak with or to French women. Carrying out this order the Military Police overseas undertook to arrest Negroes found talking to French women while the white privates and officers were not molested. This led to a serious misunderstanding between the French and the Americans and to a number of brawls in which the white and black soldiers participated. In addition to orders issued designed to prevent Negro soldiers overseas from coming into social contact with French civilians, French officers were also advised not to present any semblance of mixing socially with Negro officers, especially not to eat with them, and also not to praise the Negro in the presence of white Americans for any military action in which he participated.
For instance,---in order to make such a program as that of General Ervin's
more successful, biased Americans succeeded in having issued, on August
7, 1918, from General Pershing's headquarters, through the military mission
stationed with the Amer-
French officers and French civilians, as a rule, could not understand why the black soldiers should not be treated identically as white American soldiers; when French officers were alone with Negro officers, the latter were treated with the utmost friendliness and consideration, and it was only when in the presence of American officers that they reluctantly observed the official order, inspired by race prejudice, which positively forbade them from fraternizing with Negro soldiers and officers. Thus it was that race prejudice in the Army was carried overseas to a land where discriminations on account of race or color are neither practiced nor encouraged to a land where, freedom, liberty, and equality are truly exemplified.
When reports began to come back from France, in divers and sundry ways---alleging unfair treatment of colored soldiers, the Special Assistant immediately assembled these complaints and brought them to the attention of the proper officials in the War Department, including the Military Intelligence Bureau. The Military Intelligence officers ferreted out a number of these complaints, although some of them were contained in anonymous communications. While some of them were found to be justifiable and worthy of corrections, others were found to represent only the exaggerated statement of some individual soldier whose own indiscretion or violation of military law and regulations had brought upon him the punishment or hardships concerning which he complained. Determined to do his utmost to find out the real facts regarding conditions among Negro soldiers in France, and realizing the serious effect that a continuance of such complaints would have upon the morale of colored soldiers and colored Americans generally, the author on August 10, 1918, recommended the special inquiry outlined in the letter to Mr. George Creel, Director of the Committee on Public Information, which will be found on pages 114-116 .
Conditions in the Labor Battalions
In the Labor Battalions sent abroad were impressed many Negroes who went
to the front with the hope of bearing arms, but, in conformity with the
idea prevailing in some sections of making the Negro a laborer only---thousands
of Negro soldiers who had been drilled for service at the front were, for
various excuses, reduced and placed in these Labor Battalions. Speaking
of the conditions at one camp a Negro officer reported: "The conditions
are simply awful; mud everywhere, leaky tents and barracks and lack of sufficient
food and proper toilets. The men are worked hard, some at night and others
in the day, rain or shine. As a consequence there are quite a number of
sick men in our organization." The Fifteenth Regiment of New York,
for example, was made to render such service for a time, but was finally
placed in a somewhat quiet sector where it was supposed they would not have
to engage in hard military fighting. It turned out, however, that the Germans,
in their advance, attacked this point, making it necessary for the Old Fifteenth
to defend the
..........THEY LIE IN FRANCE
..........WHERE LILIES BLOOM.
.................They lie in France
.................Where lilies bloom;
.................Those flowers pale
.................That guard each tomb
.................Are saintly souls
.................That smiling stand
.................Close by them in
.................That martyred land,
And mutely there the long night shadows creep
From quiet hills to mourn for them who sleep,
While o'er them through the dusk go silently
The grieving clouds that slowly drift to, sea,
And lately round them moaned the Winter wind
Whose voice, lamenting, sounds so coldly kind,
Yet in their faith those waiting hearts abide
The time when turns forever that false tide..
.................In France they lie
.................Where lilies bloom,
.................Those flowers fair
.................For them made room.
.................Not vainly placed
.................The crosses stand
.................Within that brave
.................And stricken land;
.................Their honor lives
.................Their love endures,
.................Their noble death,
.................The right assures,
.....For they shall have their hearts' desire
....They who, unflinching, braved the fire
Across the fields their eyes at last shall see
Through clouds and mist the hosts of victory.
PERCIVAL ALLEN., in the New-York Times.,
After the signing of the Armistice, it was repeatedly stated in the Negro
press and in numerous letters from soldiers and others received at Washington,
that Reserve Labor Battalions and similar military units composed of colored
men were being kept in the Army out of proportion to the number of white
troops that were discharged in various camps through the country. Using
Newport News as a typical case, and as related by a Director of Colored
Work in close touch with the situation, this officer stated: "The causes
of unrest as heard from the men themselves are: First: The unfair type of
white officers. The commanding officer is very popular with the men, but
I have heard no soldier speak a good word for the majority of officers on
his staff. Second: They resent being kept in the Army for the purpose of
doing all kinds of menial work every day of the week for the good of this
section of the country, which they hate with a holy hate. They say that
the war is over and why should they be kept at work on something that does
not pertain to war; that they enlisted in the Army to defeat Germany and
now that Germany is defeated, their job is done and they are anxious to
get back to their families and their normal activities. They are the two
fundamental causes of unrest. The low morale is something appalling; the
men hang around in groups brooding and grumbling. They are beginning to
look upon the uniforms as emblems of slavery. You can readily see where
this condition of mind is leading to. It strikes me that seeds of anarchy
are being planted. * * * There is but one remedy and that is to demobilize
them. To keep these men here in their present state of mind means two things---it
is preparing the way for serious disturbances at this particular point;
and second, it is implanting a bitterness in the souls of these men that
will stay with them as long as life lasts. They will leave here with their
Attitude Toward Colored Medical Officers
Much dissatisfaction arose and was voiced in the Negro press and elsewhere
concerning the seeming disinclination on the part of the Surgeon General's
office to commission and utilize an adequate number of colored medical officers
to minister to the physical needs of the 400,000 Negroes who served in the
Army. Still more resentment was felt and expressed by reason of the fact
that a large number of Negro physicians, surgeons and dentists were not
permitted to serve the Government in their professional capacities, but
were drafted into service as privates, while many white physicians, surgeons,
and dentists served, in many instances, in connection with Negro troops.
This was considered not only a denial of their right to serve as medical
officers at least in connection with men of their own race, but was also,
regarded as an unwarranted reflection upon their professional ability. Colored
Medical Societies all over the country protested against the manifest policy
of the Government not to commission an adequate number of colored medical
officers as well as against the idea of permitting white physicians to serve
in connection with colored units, and compelling many Negro physicians to
serve as "privates." Repeated efforts were made by the author
to bring about the increased utilization of colored medical officers, but
the effort was persistently blocked by the Surgeon General's office, and
in response to numerous Memoranda sent to that office in behalf of Negro
physicians and surgeons, the Special Assistant almost invariably received
the following reply: "At the present time there are no vacancies in
the Medical Corps to which colored medical officers can be assigned, and
until such vacancies occur, or additional divisions of colored troops
are organized, it is not the intention of the Department to recommend the
appointment of additional colored medical officers." At the same time
these replies were received, white medical officers were serving in connection
with a number
Attitude Toward Colored Nurses
The situation with regard to colored nurses was even more difficult of adjustment and far less satisfactorily handled. In the whole matter of trying to have colored nurses accepted in the Army for the purpose of nursing sick and wounded soldiers---especially those of their own race who uniformly preferred colored nurses---the whole situation (as will be noted in the correspondence which follows) resolved itself into a matter of "passing the buck" from the Surgeon General's office to the American Red Cross, and from the Red Cross Society to the Surgeon General's office. There was a manifest disinclination to utilize colored nurses, and not because they were not competent. Thus racial discrimination triumphed again, and although a few colored nurses were assigned to half a dozen or more camps, practically none of them were sent overseas to nurse and minister to the fighting men of their own race. Was this a "square deal" either for the Negro soldier or for the scores of competent nurses all over the country who tendered their services to the Government? The appended correspondence reveals the "battledore and shuttlecock" policy which was used in shifting the blame for the non-assignment of colored nurses.
February 14, 1918.
Referring to your memorandum of February 12th, relative to the appointment and training of colored nurses for colored soldiers, at the present time colored nurses are not being accepted for service in the Army Nurse Corps, as there are no separate quarters available for them, and it is not deemed advisable to assign white and colored nurses to the same posts.
Colored nurses who have applied for admission to the Corps are advised to apply to the American Red Cross, as should they be used later in the Army hospital of this country, they will, in all probability, be selected from the Red Cross list.
(Signed) W. C. GORGAS,
Surgeon General, U. S. Army.
It will be noted in the above communication that colored nurses were directed to "apply to the American Red Cross," and in the following communication it is stated, by the Director of the Red Cross Department of Nursing, that the utilization or assignment of colored nurses "after all is a matter for the Surgeon General to decide rather than our office."
THE AMERICAN RED CROSS
Washington, D. C.
January 9th, 1918.
Mr. John M. Glenn, General Director,
Russell Sage Foundation, New York City.
My Dear Sir:
The RED CROSS is entirely willing to enroll colored nurses whenever there is an opportunity for their service in military hospitals. We communicated with the superintendents of training schools admitting colored pupils, asking them to submit the names of graduates whom they would recommend for Red Cross nurses.
Several attempts have been made to organize a Base Hospital Unit composed of colored nurses only, and we hope to do this in connection with the Lincoln Hospital in New York and with the Freedmen's Hospital, in Washington. A cantonment for colored troops was originally planned at Des Moines., and we hoped to utilize such a base hospital unit in connection with this cantonment. The colored soldiers were later distributed throughout the cantonments, and there were practical difficulties in the way of assigning the colored nurses to duty with the white nurses.
The Surgeon General's office has been informed that we have such lists available, and that these nurses can be quietly enrolled, whenever there is a possibility of their assignment to duty.
There has never been any question in regard to our willingness to enroll colored nurses and the only question, is how best to assign them to duty, which, after all is a matter for the Surgeon General to decide, rather than our office.
This matter was fully discussed by the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service in the very beginning of the war, and they unanimously agreed that whenever colored nurses could be used, they should be enrolled on exactly the same status as white nurses. It does not seem desirable, however, to enroll them without reference to their color.
I am glad of the opportunity to send you this explanation.
Yours very truly,
(Signed) JANE A. DELANO,
Director, Department of Nursing.
In view of the conflicting circumstances set forth above with reference to colored nurses in the Army, the Special Assistant made an earnest effort to cure the situation, as the following Memorandum will show:
February 28, 1918.
MEMORANDUM FOR DEAN F. P. KEPPEL,
Office of the Secretary of War.
My Dear Dean Keppel:
I confess my inability to altogether understand the situation with reference to the utilization of colored nurses during the present war.
ATTITUDE OF THE RED CROSS ORGANIZATION.
Let me put it before you in this way: The Red Cross organization has been industriously writing letters to the effect that they are perfectly willing to enroll colored nurses, as will be noted in the following extract taken from a letter written by the Director of the Department of Nursing under date of January 9, 1918
"There has never been any question in regard to our willingness to enroll colored nurses and the only question is how best to assign them to duty, which, after all is a matter for the Surgeon General to decide rather than our office.
"This matter was fully discussed by the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service in the very beginning of the war, and they unanimously agreed that whenever colored nurses could be used, they should be enrolled on exactly the same status as white nurses. It does not seem desirable, however, to enroll them without reference to their color."
This seems to pass the matter, as you will note, to the Surgeon General.
ATTITUDE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL.
The Surgeon General's attitude is reflected in his letter of February 14,. 1918, and is stated as follows:
"Referring to your memorandum of February 12th relative to the appointment and training of colored nurses for colored soldiers, at the present time colored nurses are not being accepted for service in the Army Nurse Corps as there are no separate quarters available for them, and it is not deemed advisable to assign white and colored nurses to the same posts."
"Colored nurses who have applied for admission to the Corps are advised to apply to the American Red Cross for enrollment, as should they be used later in the army hospitals of this country, they will, in all probability, be selected from the Red Cross list."
From the above, it will be seen that the whole matter of utilizing colored nurses is still very much "up in the air."
The upshot of the whole matter is that, while there are thousands of colored men who have been called to the colors as soldiers, no colored nurses have been admitted to the service although quite a number have enrolled with the Red Cross organization as. suggested, and they, together with many more well-trained, competent, and registered nurses are ready and willing to look after sick and wounded soldiers who are now and soon will be facing shot and shell upon battlefields abroad.
I would most earnestly recommend that some satisfactory way be, found that will offer to colored nurses in the Army Nurse Corps and in the Red Cross organization the same opportunity for serving sick and wounded soldiers as has been so wisely and timely provided for white nurses.
Waiving all discussion as to the matter of assigning white and colored nurses to the same posts, or quarters, it is difficult for me to understand why some colored nurses have not been given an opportunity to serve.
This vexing question is being put to me almost daily by colored newspaper editors, colored physicians, surgeons, etc., who are constantly bombarding my sector of the War Department, inquiring what has been done, and urging that something should be done in the direction of utilizing professionally trained and efficient colored nurses.
I recognize the "problems," but can't they be solved?
(Signed) EMMETT J. SCOTT,
WHD Special Assistant.
Discriminations in the Government Service
While Negro soldiers were fighting overseas in defense of their country,
race prejudice was denying to many members of their families and dependents
at home the chance of earning a livelihood in the Government service in
Washington and elsewhere. Hundreds of instances can be cited where Negroes,
even after qualifying as eligibles by successfully passing civil service
examinations for various positions in the Government service, were absolutely
"turned down" and denied appointment---in many cases after they
had been definitely certified for appointment by the U. S. Civil Service
Commission and had journeyed long dis-
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE
Washington, D. C., September 17, 1918.
Dr. Emmett J. Scott,
Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, War Department.
My dear Mr. Scott:
I find in almost all Departments of the Government discriminations against colored applicants for clerkships. I will name the following where this discrimination seems to flourish, viz: The Quartermaster's Bureau, the Ordnance Bureau, the Adjutant General's Office, the War Risk Bureau, the U. S. Shipping Board, the Civilian Personnel Division of the War Department, the Food and Animal Industry Bureau, the U. S. Employment Bureau.
I name these merely because I have had more to do with these in behalf. of colored applicants for clerkships, but these unfortunate American citizens are up against it hard all along the line of Government where they come into competition with white applicants for the same jobs. I hope that you with others may find some cure for this evil.
(Signed) ARCHIBALD H. GRIMKE,
President, Local Branch.
In a number of instances the Special Assistant was successful in having the rights of Negro applicants upheld, but in the large majority of cases devious ways were found to sidestep the, civil service law. True it was that Negroes in considerable number were employed in various offices and branches of the government service, but even then, in most instances, they were segregated or "Jim Crow-ed" and unnecessary indignities were visited upon them.
While full credit is given to the number of Negroes who were appointed to and who rightfully held Government positions during the war, the fact still remains, AND A LESSON WHICH SHOULD BE LEARNED FROM, AND APPLIED AFTER THE WAR, that it is un-American, inconsistent, unjust, and destructive of a healthy morale for the Government, especially, to discriminate against any group of citizens simply and solely on account of their race or color.
False Impressions and Evidences of Fair Play
It is wrong to assume, because the Negro soldier suffered many hardships during the war, and was the victim of various, forms of racial discrimination, that he was the only one who suffered and it is manifestly unfair to make a wholesale condemnation of Army and Government officials, many of whom sympathized with his position and were actively working for his welfare. White soldiers and white officers suffered many of the hardships of war the same as Negroes did, and many were the complaints and grievances that were registered by them at the War Department. While they were exempted from many of the racial discriminations hereinabove recited, nevertheless the kind of treatment they received was largely dependent upon the character and temperament of the superior officer under whom they served.
It would be wholly unfair to the Secretary of War, to his Assistants,
to many members of his Staff, to certain officials of the War Department
and to a number of white officers in command of Negro troops, if it were
not specifically stated that, on numerous occasions, impelled by a high
sense of justice, they actively indicated their earnest desire to give the
Negro soldier "a square deal," and it was their consistent policy
to rectify, as far as possible, all complaints that were in their power
to remedy. It is easy to substantiate the fact that, as a rule, the "men
The Secretary of War is to be especially commended upon his willingness at all times to listen to the pleas of the Special Assistant on behalf of Negro soldiers and to any other matter calculated to affect the morale of colored Americans generally. Not only did he sympathetically listen, but he actively sought in many ways to remedy the conditions concerning which complaints were made. Unfortunately, however, in a number of instances the Secretary of War could not give his personal attention to every complaint and had to deal with "human instrumentalities" in bringing things to pass, and ofttimes those "human instrumentalities," that were expected to, and relied upon to carry out the letter and spirit of his purposes, did not synchronize with his own high ideals of justice and fair play, and, therefore, in some instances the desired result was not obtained.
No set of men, in my opinion, could have been fairer in their general attitude toward the Negro people than were those connected with the Office of the Secretary of War. Aside from the splendid spirit of fair play shown by Secretary Baker and the Assistant Secretaries of War, his private secretaries, Mr. Ralph A. Hayes, and Mr. Stanley King, aided in many ways in securing prompt consideration and correction of numerous complaints and grievances. The office of Dr. F. P. Keppel, Third Assistant Secretary of War, was especially charged with the duty of looking after many complaints and matters of vital concern to colored soldiers and colored Americans generally, and not only did he manifest a keen interest in their welfare but, in many cases, was successful in translating that interest into remedial action.
In all dealings with the Provost Marshal General's Office, looking after
the interests of Negro men who were drafted into the Army, the Special Assistant
found in every case a disposition to thoroughly investigate such grievances
and to carefully consider such appeals as were presented. The Provost Marshal
General's Office carefully investigated and furnished to him, as Special
Assistant to the Secretary of War, full and complete reports in each and
every complaint or case referred to it for , attention, involving discriminations,
race prejudice, erroneous classification of
Numbers of white Commanding Officers displayed a most friendly and sympathetic attitude toward Negro soldiers and Negro officers and gave them opportunities to demonstrate their efficiency and to earn promotions.
With regard to overseas complaints, as well as complaints emanating from
camps at home, it seems not to have been generally known that in the recent
war, where millions of men were called to serve in the American Army, it
was not possible for the Secretary of War or any other one official to read
all of the complaints and. grievances even if they had been presented. The
fact that no one person could administer all of the affairs of such an immense
Army was the reason why all of the camps, both home and abroad, were "decentralized,"
that is to say, the Camp Commanders at home, and General Pershing abroad
were practically supreme in their own military bailiwick, and exercised
full charge over the handling and settling of all such complaints. In previous
wars, involving only a few hundred thousand men, complaints were usually
appealable to, and handled by one central authority, namely the War Department
at Washington. It can, therefore, be readily understood that the settlement
of complaints made by
Not only were about 1,200 Negroes commissioned as Army officers, and thousands of Negro soldiers furnished educational opportunities in connection with Vocational Detachments and Students' Army Training Corps located at 18 or 20 of the leading colored institutions of the country, thus showing some regard to their mental qualifications and special adaptabilities, but a number of other signal honors were conferred upon Negro soldiers and Negro officers. For instance, it is not generally known that Camp Alexander, at Newport News, Virginia, was so named in honor of a Negro officer who has served in the Army of the United States. Following is a copy of the Official Order conferring that honor:
HEADQUARTERS, PORT OF EMBARKATION
Newport News, Virginia
General Orders No. 294
August 15, 1918.
The Stevedore Cantonment and the Labor Encampments in the vicinity of North Newport News will hereafter be known collectively as CAMP ALEXANDER, Newport News, Virginia.
The above designation is in honor of the late Lieutenant John H. Alexander, 9th U. S. Cavalry, a colored graduate of the United States military academy, who served from the time of his graduation until his death as an officer of the army. A man of ability, attainments and energy, who was a credit to himself, to his race and to the service.
By command of Brigadier-General Grote Hutcheson.
(Signed) DANIEL VAN VOORHIS,
Colonel, General Staff,
C. W. BELL, Chief of Staff.
Colonel, Adjutant General,
The Chief of Staff, General Peyton C. March, the Military Intelligence
Bureau, of which General Marlborough Churchill was the directing head, and
the morale section of the office of the Chief of Staff, of which General
E. L. Munson was in charge---all deserve much credit for the effective manner
in which they handled the numerous complaints of Negro, soldiers, Negro
officers, and civilians, that were referred to them for attention by my
February 7, 1919.
Dear Mr. Scott:
Information has come to this office that the situation at Camp Alexander has greatly improved during the past few weeks.
An improvement both in discipline and morale has been noted. The instituting of military drill seems to have had a good effect in the labor battalions, where the men had previously received no military training.
The men seem to feel that they are being treated as soldiers, and they begin to exhibit soldierly qualities in their deportment and appearance.
Also in a Memorandum, under date of February 18, 1919, addressed to the Special Assistant by E. L. Munson, Chief of the Morale Branch, the following observation was made:
"One change which proved very helpful to the morale, was the transfer of a large number of unsatisfactory non-commissioned officers who were replaced by colored non-commissioned officers selected in their own organizations."
Major J. E. Spingarn, Captain J. E. Cutler, and others connected with the Military Intelligence branches of the Government made diligent effort to find out the facts in every case where complaint was made. They, together with many officials of the War Department, seemed to realize the fact that, like the white man, the black man is intensely human; that he thrives when his good works and worth are recognized and appreciated, and droops and wilts when they are disparaged and condemned.
Thus it appears that while the Negro was, in many instances. the victim of racial discrimination and injustice in time of war, yet---by his demonstrated loyalty, valor, and efficiency in practically every branch of military service (to some of which he was reluctantly admitted), he has proved his right to be granted a fuller measure of justice, respect, opportunity, and fair play in time of peace!
Chapter XXXI. What the Negro Got Out of the War
Table of Contents