Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


African Americans in World War I
Author:
Valerie Schrag
Course:
US History
Time Frame:
One 90-minute block period or two 55-minute class periods
Subjects:
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

This lesson could be an individual or cooperative learning assignment, depending upon the needs of
your individual classroom. The lesson incorporates an online exhibition from the National World War
I Museum with primary and secondary sources regarding the African American experience in World
War I.

Rationale:

 

I teach African American History at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, KS. The textbook we use does not go into substantial depth on the African American experience in World War I. I wanted to use multiple sources to demonstrate the contributions of persons of color in the war presumably fought to “make the world safe for democracy,” contributions that were made within a segregated military and home front.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

• CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

• CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

• CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

• CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.



Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

 

• Chapter 16, Section 3 in Darlene Clark Hine, et al., African American History, Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006.

• excerpts from the PBS series The Great War – Episode 2 “A Nation Comes of Age” (series originally aired in 2017) – video guide appended to this lesson

• The National World War I Museum and Memorial online exhibition entitled “Make Way for Democracy! (April 1917-1919)” – online exhibition accessible at https://www.theworldwar.org/explore/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/make-way-democracy

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

 

“The Call to War” folder

• excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois, “Close Ranks” editorial in The Crisis, 1918
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/DuBois.pdf

• pdf image of the front page of The Denver Star, an African American newspaper, dated April 7, 1917
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/DenverStar7April1917.pdf

“Battle Experiences” folder

• pdf image of the front page of The Denver Star, an African American newspaper, dated May 25, 1918 and including a short article on Needham Roberts & Henry Johnson
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/DenverStar25May1918.pdf

• “The Two Lives of Eugene Bullard,” article from the companion website to the PBS series entitled “The Great War”
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/TwoLivesEugeneBullard.pdf

• “WWI Hero Henry Johnson Finally Receives Medal of Honor,” article from History.com, dated June 2, 2015
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/HenryJohnson.pdf

“Posters” folder

• image of “Colored Man is No Slacker” (1918)
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/ColoredManposter.pdf

 

• image of “The Dawn of Hope” (1918?)
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/DawnofHopeposter.pdf

• image of “True Blue” (1919)
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/TrueBlueposter.pdf

• image of “True Sons of Freedom” (1918)
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/TrueSonsposter.pdf

 

 

“Jim Crow & Racism in the Military” folder

• images of the draft registration cards for Alvin York and Marcus Garvey
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/Draftcards.pdf

• “A Black Sergeant’s Letter” – written by Charles Isum to W.E.B. DuBois in May 1919
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/BlackSergeantsLetter.pdf

• article, “African American World War I soldiers served at a time racism was rampant in the U.S.” by Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post, Sept. 22, 2017
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/WaPostAfricanAmericanWorldWarI.pdf

“Aftermath” folder

• NAACP Call to Action (1919)
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/NAACP.pdf

• “The World’s Experience,” article by Adriane Lentz-Smith and obtained from the companion website to the PBS series entitled “The Great War”
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/WorldExperience.pdf

Lawrence/Douglas County, Kansas Oral Histories

• excerpt from the interview with Albert Salisbury, June 15, 1977
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/AlbertSalisburyinterview.pdf

• excerpt from the interview with Laurenia Kiser, June 3, 1977
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/LaureniaKiserDouglas%20County.pdf

• excerpt from the interview with Leslie & Minnie Kimball, June 1, 1977
https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/LeslieMinnieKimballinterview.pdf

• NOTE: These interviews are part of the Lawrence/Douglas County, Kansas African American Oral History Interviews collection, available at http://oralhistory.lplks.org/index.html.




Full description of activity or assignment.

 

1. Prior to this activity, the students will have already engaged with information about the African American experience in World War I. They will have read chapter 16, section 3 in African American History as homework and will also have viewed excerpts from episode 2 of the PBS series “The Great War.” (NOTE: The attached video guide does eliminate the segments of episode 2 that are not related to the African American experience in the war. You can find a full transcript of episode 2 on the companion website to “The Great War,” which will allow you to use the attached guide.) 2. When students come to class, guide them to the online exhibition from the National World War I Museum and Memorial entitled “Make Way for Democracy! (April 1917-1919).” Using their MacBooks, students should spend up to 10 minutes individually viewing the exhibition to familiarize themselves with this overview of the African American experience in World War I. 3. While the students are exploring the online exhibition, spread the six folders around the

 

classroom. Instruct the students to use the contents of each folder to explore the African American experience in World War I. They may rotate around the classroom at their own pace and view the folders in any order. Students should complete one analysis worksheet for each folder (6 analysis worksheets in total). (NOTE: This activity can be done either individually or cooperatively in groups. You can make that decision based upon the abilities of your students.) 4. Give the students the majority of the 90-minute period to examine the folders and draw

conclusions about the African American experience in World War I. 5. When 10 minutes remain in class, bring the students together for a class discussion about

   

what they learned from the folders. Use the questions on the analysis worksheet to guide this discussion and encourage the students to cite specific examples from their learning. 6. Collect the six analysis worksheets from each student at the end of class.

 

 

 

Folder Analysis Worksheet

The African American Experience in World War I

Folder Title: _________________________________________________

Main Idea – or, what holds all of the items in this folder together? Include descriptions for each example.

Ex. 1:

Ex. 2:

What questions do you have after viewing the contents of this folder? Why?

Did anything in this folder surprise you or was an unexpected discovery? Explain.

How do the contents of this folder either support or contradict President Wilson’s vision of the First World War as a war to “make the world safe for democracy?” Give one specific example.

How did this folder help you to understand the African American experience in World War I? Give one specific example.

 

 

Video Guide - Excerpts from The Great War (Part 2) (PBS American Experience)

1. Why did the United States use a draft in World War I?

2. How did the Selective Service organization know whether the enlisted man was of “African

descent?”

3. How was segregation used in the basic training camps (like Camp Funston) for:

a. African Americans?

b. Mexican Americans?

c. Native Americans?

d. European immigrant groups?

e. Members of different economic & social classes?

4. How was the 15th National Guard (New York) created?

Who commanded the 15th? Why?

5. Who was James Reese Europe? Why did he join the 15th New York National Guard?

6. How did the 15th New York National Guard use its band to encourage enlistment?

7. What was the “Silent Protest Parade?” Describe.

8. What happened to the 15th New York National Guard when they were sent to Spartanburg, SC

for training?

9. When the 15th New York National Guard arrived in France, what was their assignment? Why?

After a few months, what became their new assignment? Why?

10. How did the French react to having African American soldiers assigned to their units?

11. On May 15, 1916, privates Henry Johnson & Needham Roberts were standing guard in front of

their own lines when they heard the sound of wire cutters. Describe what happened to them next.

12. How were Johnson & Needham’s efforts recognized?

13. What was the new nickname of the 15th New York National Guard?


 


 



Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

 

Students will be graded on their completion of the analysis worksheets and their participation in the class discussion at the conclusion of the lesson.