We’ve all heard the narrative countless times. African-American heroes, whose feats surpassed those of their white counterparts – were never recognized until recently, when our newly enlightened, and liberal, society finally unveiled their glory for all to see. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen comes to mind. Type tusk into Google search and “Tuskegee airmen” is the first result to pop up – over two million results. The Buffalo Soldiers is another saga that has become legendary in recent years.
According to PBS.org:
African-Americans have fought for the United States throughout its history, defending and serving a country that in turn denied them their basic rights as citizens. Despite policies of racial segregation and discrimination, African-American soldiers played a significant role from the colonial period to the Korean War. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that African-American soldiers began to receive the recognition and equality they deserved.
Having attended public schools myself, I remember this message constantly being reinforced. There is little doubt that any survey of American teenagers/young adults that asked “Were African American military accomplishments given recognition 80 years ago?” would yield a large majority of “no” answers.
And yet I came across this in “History of the World War” (1919):
The caption reads, “AMERICAN COLORED SOLDIERS IN ALSACE – Inspection of arms before going into action. Colored troops were in battles with the Germans many times and succeeded in beating the enemy in every instance. (pg. 602)”
On page 609 we read:
In these drives the American colored troops played a conspicuous part. The entire Three hundred and sixty-fifth regiment, composed wholly of colored troops, was later awarded the coveted Croix de Guerre, or War Cross, by the French Government. It was a well-deserved honor, for the boys of the Three hundred and sixty-fifth bore themselves with great gallantry in the September and October offensive in the Champagne sector and suffered heavy losses. In conferring the Croix de Guerre, the citation dealt in considerable detail with the valor of particular officers and praised the courage and tenacity of the whole regiment.
Accustomed, as we are, to gross hyperbole and deception when it comes to tales of black heroism, we view such claims with suspicion. We have been conditioned to scoff, and rightfully so. But I say give credit where credit is due. In any case, the accuracy of such claims is not pertinent to my point here. My point is that even in 1919, at the height of Jim Crow and in the midst of the “Nadir of American Race Relations“, Francis March and Richard Beamish would not shy away from making statements such as the ones above. I am fairly certain that “History of the World War” was the first history of that war ever published, at least in English. Its introduction was written by General Peyton C. March, Chief of Staff of the United States Army.