African American soldiers are often rendered invisible in the traditional historical narrative of United States involvement in World War I. But hundreds of thousands of African Americans fought on the western front to make the world “safe for democracy,” in President Woodrow Wilson’s phrase. These soldiers came from a range of US locations—cities like New York or Washington, DC as well as the countryside of the Carolinas and the Deep South. They were sources of inspiration for many in the African American community, but evoked fear among some white Americans. This primary source set emphasizes the experiences of African American doughboys during the war while also highlighting how they were perceived by white Americans. Use the sources to determine how racism and patriotism shaped the experiences of the African American soldiers.
Additional resources for research
- Patriotic Labor: America during World War I online exhibit, Digital Public Library of America.
- “African Americans in World War I,” by Chad Williams, Africana Age: African and African Diasporan Transformations in the 20th century, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
- “World War I and Postwar Society,” African American Odyssey, Library of Congress.
- “Teaching with Documents: Photographs of the 369th Infantry and African Americans during World War I,” National Archives.