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Chad Williams @Dr_ChadWilliams
, 16 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
The history of the 92d Division in #WWI is worth delving into. It's story is a critical part of the black military experience in the war and why this legacy matters.
1/ The 92d division was one of two all-black combat divisions to fight in the war (the other the was the 93rd division, made up mostly of black national guardsmen). It's insignia was the buffalo in honor of the famed “buffalo soldiers” of the Regular Army.
2/ It is important to emphasize that the army did not want black combat soldiers. From the beginning they were seen as a "problem." Black soldiers in the Regular Army were not sent to France. As for black draftees, the War Dept. hoped to use them exclusively as laborers.
3.The 92d Div. was commanded by white men, led by Maj. Gen. Charles Ballou. The majority of the division's white officers were from the South and believed that black men could not be effective combat soldiers unless controlled by white men.
4/ However, the 92d Div. did contain black officers. The army established a segregated officers camp in Des Moines, Iowa. The cadets represented the best of black America. In Oct. 1917, 639 black men received officer commissions and were assigned to the newly created 92d Div.
5/ The 92d was controversial from the start. The white officers despised the very idea of black officers. The War Dept., fearful of armed black soldiers stationed in the South, split up the division and had its regiments train at separate camps.
6/ The 92d reached France in June 1918. They received a warm welcome from the French. White soldiers and officers, however, spread rumors that they were animals and threats to French women. Some even called it the "raping division."
7/ Black officers, because of their status and threat to white authority, were specifically targeted. They were demeaned and brought before efficiency boards. The percentage of black officers in the 92d Division dropped from 82 to 58 by the end of the war.
8/ The reputation of the 92d division was damaged as a result of the alleged failure of one of its regiments, the 368th, in the Meuse Argonne offensive. Black officers were made scapegoats for disastrous lack of planning and the incompetence of white officers.
9/ The 92d Division's final battle on Nov. 11 described by Hochschild was not entirely meaningless. It offered an opportunity for redemption and a chance to demonstrate that black soldiers and officers could fight. This was politically and symbolically important.
10/ After the armistice, white officers like Gen. Robert Lee Bullard continued to slander the 92d Division. He would write, "If you need combat soldiers...don't put your time upon Negroes." A 1925 Army War College report would echo these views and shape army policy into WWII.
11/ Black troops of the 92d were enraged. In a letter to W.E.B. Du Bois a black officer wrote, “The American Negro soldier in France was treated with the same contempt and undemocratic spirit as the American Negro citizen is treated in the United States."
12/ But they were also emboldened. Many of the 92d Division's officers returned to the U.S. determined to defend their record and also fight for black civil rights.
13/ One of best examples is Charles Hamilton Houston. He was an officer in the 92d Division, battled American racism and came home deeply embittered. He later reflected, “I made up my mind that I would never get caught again without knowing my rights."
14/ Houston would go to @Harvard_Law, become dean of Howard Univ. Law School, train a generation of black lawyers (including Thurgood Marshall) and spearhead the @NAACP legal campaign to end segregation. He would be known as "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow."
15/ So, in recognizing the anniversary of the end of #WWI, it is necessary to remember the black experience in the war and how it shaped a history of struggle that spanned a century and continues today.
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