For more than four decades, AAHGS has promoted African American history in our nation schools at the elementary, middle, high schools and at the post-secondary level.
These words immediately resonated with many African Americans, who viewed the war as an opportunity to bring about true democracy in the United States. It would be insincere, many black people argued, for the United States to fight for democracy in Europe while African Americans remained second-class citizens. "If America truly understands the functions of democracy and justice, she must know that she must begin to promote democracy and justice at home first of all," Arthur Shaw of New York proclaimed. The black press used Wilson's pronouncement to frame the war as a struggle for African American civil rights. "Let us have a real democracy for the United States and then we can advise a house cleaning over on the other side of the water," the Baltimore Afro-American asserted. For African Americans, the war became a crucial test of America's commitment to the ideal of democracy and the rights of citizenship for all people, regardless of race.
The artists under the Videmus label have created the standard for interpreting the concert music of African American and women composers. You'll find them on various labels above, or you can get further information at their web site.
You Can Tell The World: Songs by African-American Women Composers. Senrab Records, 2000. Sebronette Barnes, Soprano, Elise Auerbach, Piano. Order or listen at
Oliver Nelson's first big-band date as a leader, this album pays tribute to the history of blacks in America, with such songs as "Jungleaire," "Emancipation Blues," "Going Up North" and "Freedom Dance."
When the war ended on November 11, 1918, African Americans anxiously and optimistically hoped that their patriotic sacrifices would have a positive impact on race relations and expand the boundaries of civil rights. Political leaders attempted to exert influence on the Versailles peace proceedings. W. E. B. Du Bois organized a Pan-African Congress, held in Paris from February 19 to 21, 1919, which challenged the legitimacy of European colonialism. William Monroe Trotter of the Equal Rights League was so determined to reach Paris that, after being denied a passport by the State Department, he obtained passage as a cook and ultimately presented his case to the peace conference. International pressure was closely tied to the domestic expectations of African Americans. Homecoming parades for returning black soldiers, in the North and South, attracted thousands of people and signaled a determination to translate their service into social and political change.
African Americans were indeed forced to fight, quite literally, for their survival following the war. James Weldon Johnson characterized the bloody summer of 1919 as the Red Summer. Fears of labor unrest, "bolshevism" stemming from the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the return of black soldiers spawned a nationwide surge in violence, much of it directed at African Americans. Race riots erupted in several cities, the most significant occurring in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In October 1919, whites in Elaine, Arkansas, massacred hundreds of black people in response to the efforts of sharecroppers to organize themselves. In the South, the number of reported lynchings swelled from sixty-four in 1918 to eighty-three in 1919. At least eleven of these victims were returned soldiers. For African Americans, the end of the war brought anything but peace.
How African Americans responded to the postwar resurgence of white supremacy reflected the depths to which the aspirations of the war and expectations for democracy shaped their racial and political consciousness. The war radicalized many African Americans and deepened a commitment to combat white racial violence. At the same time, the contributions of the soldiers, as well as peoples of African descent more broadly, to the war effort swelled racial pride. Marcus Garvey tapped into this social, political, and cultural milieu. A native of Jamaica, Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era. A host of other radical organizations and newspapers complemented the UNIA and signaled the arrival of the "New Negro."
The impact of World War I on African Americans often receives less attention than the effects of the Civil War and World War II. Because racial conditions failed to improve significantly after the war, it is often viewed as a disillusioning moment. To the contrary, World War I brought about tremendous change for African Americans and their place in American society. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of black communities in the North and the South. The war effort allowed black men and women to assert their citizenship, hold the government accountable, and protest racial injustice. Military service brought thousands of black men into the army, exposed them to new lands and new people, and allowed them to fight for their country. Black people staked claim to democracy as a highly personal yet deeply political ideal and demanded that the nation live up to its potential. World War I represents a turning point in African American history, one that shaped the course of the black experience in the twentieth century.
Barbeau, Arthur E. and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.
Ellis, Mark. Race, War and Surveillance Race, War, and Surveillance: African Americans and the United States Government during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.