What Contributions Did African Americans Make During WWI?
- Military units remain segregated in 1917, with black troops serving in their own regiments separated from white troops. The Army had four black regiments: the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments, and the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments. The War Department created two new divisions, the 92nd and 93rd Divisions, to serve combat duties in the war.
- Before the war, black Army units were almost exclusively commanded by white officers. With more black units being deployed for combat duties, the War Department felt it prudent to train black officers, who it was believed could command black soldiers more easily. A total of 1,250 men attended officer training camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, during the summer of 1917; 639 graduated to become captains or lieutenants in the 92nd Division. More than 700 additional officers graduated from subsequent training camps.
- Initially, black units served support duties during the war, and indeed many of them were not even deployed overseas. The black community protested so forcefully that the War Department was forced to reconsider. Approximately 200,000 blacks were deployed overseas and 40,000 of them saw combat. Both the 92nd and 93rd Divisions were deployed alongside the French Army, which had suffered grievous casualties during the war and which bore fewer prejudices against blacks than most U.S. units.
- The 92nd Division suffered a terrible setback during combat operations in the Argonne Forest. Hampered by a lack of supplies and unfamiliarity with the terrain, they failed to secured the territory expected of them. The 93rd, on the other hand, acquitted themselves admirably during some of the toughest fighting of the war. In particular, the 369th Infantry Regiment, also known as The Harlem Hellfighters, fought on the front lines for a full six months, which was the longest of any U.S. unit. The contributions of both divisions increased opportunities for blacks in the military and helped dispel long-held prejudices about their fitness to serve in combat.