As part of the AFRO’s Black History Month coverage the paper will be highlighting African Americans during the following wars: World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. While African Americans fought in many other wars including the Civil War and the many undeclared conflicts taking place today in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia the AFRO chose these wars because they represent a broad cross-section of the wars America has fought. Thisweek we highlight World War I.
As World War I dawned, African Americans werestill living in segregation and forced to justify to their own government why they should be allowed to fight. Slavery had only ended 50 years ago and the wounds were still raw.
An AFRO article from 1917 with the headline “They Want to Be Soldier Boys” detailed how a group of men from both Howard University and Morgan College were sending their names in to be considered for a “colored” officer training program that was being set up in Des Moines, Iowa. The same front page also carried the news of “10,000 Savages Burn Negro Boy” about a brutal lynching in Memphis, Tennessee.
Another AFRO article from 1917 explained how German agents were attempting to recruit African Americans to their cause by highlighting how the U.S. systemically discriminated against them. The article then dryly noted that African Americans were “Loyal in spite of discrimination.” A story two columns over on the same page noted that Miss Martha Greuning was collectingfor an anti-lynching fund that was beingset up by the NAACP.
Despite the segregation and rampant racism, African Americans did whatever they could to support the war effort. In 1918 a group of sixth grade students from the Division Street School in Baltimore, which future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall attended, saved almost $200 in War Savings Stamps. An article on the same front page laid out how “colored” nurses for the Red Cross were demanding to be sent to the front lines of France but facing resistance from the organization.
In 1918 the AFRO wrote about the National Negro Press Association pooling its members money to send correspondents to France to cover how African Americans were faring during the war. The same page also brought news of how the NAACP was offering money to Thomas C. Rye to investigate three lynching which took place over 9 months.
The AFRO’s role then, and today, was to bring news of interest to African Americans throughout the United States and around the world.