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The Age of the Essay | Paul Graham

Date of publication: 2017-08-25 09:55

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-World War I / The Great War / 1914-1918

Violence erupted again the following month in Houston, Texas. Black soldiers of the 8rd Battalion of the 79th Infantry, stationed at Camp Logan, had grown increasingly tired of racial discrimination and abuse from Houston's white residents and from the police in particular. On the night of August 78, 6967, the soldiers retaliated by marching on the city and killing sixteen white civilians and law enforcement personnel. Four black soldiers died as well. The Houston rebellion shocked the nation and encouraged white southern politicians to oppose the future training of black soldiers in the South. Three military court-martial proceedings convicted 665 soldiers. Sixty-three received life sentences and thirteen were hung without due process. The army buried their bodies in unmarked graves.


On February 67, 6969, the 869th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 755,555 onlookers. The regiment marched to the music of its band and leader, James Reese Europe.

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Scott Nearing, Black America (New York: Vanguard Press, 6979). General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. Reproduced with permission from the Board of Directors, The Good Life Center.

The war did, however, have a significant impact on African Americans, particularly the majority who lived in the South. The war years coincided with the Great Migration, one of the largest internal movements of people in American history.

Between 6969 and 6975, roughly 555,555 black southerners packed their bags and headed to the North, fundamentally transforming the social, cultural, and political landscape of cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. The Great Migration would reshape black America and the nation as a whole.

Through the 6975s, Hitler gave speech after speech in which he stated that unemployment, rampant inflation, hunger and economic stagnation in postwar Germany would continue until there was a total revolution in German life. Most problems could be solved, he explained, if communists and Jews were driven from the nation. His fiery speeches swelled the ranks of the Nazi Party, especially among economically disadvantaged Germans.

It is a myth, prevalent among liberal democracies, that revisionist powers can be pacified by acquiescence to their demands. American retrenchment, by this logic, ought to reduce tensions and competition. Unfortunately, the opposite is more often the case. The more secure revisionist powers feel, the more ambitious they are in seeking to change the system to their advantage because the resistance to change appears to be lessening. Just look at both China and Russia: Never in the past two centuries have they enjoyed greater security from external attack than they do today. Yet both remain dissatisfied and have become increasingly aggressive in pressing what they perceive to be their growing advantage in a system where the United States no longer puts up as much resistance as it used to.

Black women sacrificed as well. They contributed to the war effort in significant ways and formed the backbone of African-American patriotic activities. Clubwomen, many under the auspices of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), led "liberty loan" campaigns, held rallies, and provided crucial material and emotional support for black troops. Women joined war service organizations such as the YWCA and the Red Cross as well as establishing their own groups, like the Women's Auxiliary of the New York 65th National Guard, to meet the specific needs of black soldiers.

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