Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

African Americans in World War I
Keith Rains
US History
Time Frame:
2 days
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Students will work together to analyze primary resources about African Americans in the Great War.

  • I want students to see the how the war became a catalyst in forming the Civil Rights Movement

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

  • Local standard 2b (Students will analyze cause and effect relationships in history)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • “America, the story of US”—There is a segment on the race riots in Chicago in 1919

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

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • I will open with the film segment and then work backwards
  • Next I will show the students the propaganda picture and they will work together to describe what they see (each group)
  • Each group will report
  • My lecture will be about the role of blacks:
  • --Training camp proportion- 80/20
  • ---Role in the rear
  • --Charles Hamilton Houston
  • --French citizens treat blacks with respect (I’ll ask them why…)
  • Introduce Charles Isum
  • Student groups will now read the letter written by Isum
  • Students will be asked to characterize Isum as A) uppity B) out of control C) self-centered D) warrior for gaining personal attention E) educated man who has a backbone F) warrior for justice for his entire race
  • The closing thought for the day is: Will African-Americans take a step towards equality considering their efforts in helping America win WWI?

Day 2:


A review game will be used to open class: We will divide in teams and students will write down answers, trade papers to grade and the winner will be given candy or extra credit.

About what percentage of a training camp consisted of African-Americans?

What African-American soldier became an architect for Brown v. Board of Education?

Why did French citizens treat African-Americans with more respect than many Americans?

What did Charles Isum do wrong?

What was Isum charged with?

What would his punishment have been had he been convicted?

Why did his case suddenly end?

Who is Isum’s son-in-law?

What jobs did most African-Americans have in the army?


Critical thinking piece: Will African-Americans take a step towards equality considering their efforts in helping America win WWI?


My lecture will start with the story of Harlem Hellfighter and Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts.  The story will absolutely engage the students and I will quickly have students compare this story to Alvin York’s.  Now I will divide the class into two groups and each side will tell “the rest of the story” of both York and Johnson (post war experiences).

More information will be given about Pershing and letting black troops fall under French command.  I will also tell the story of James Europe.

Finally I will get the propaganda picture back out, students will announce what they saw and then I will tell them that it came under review of the Postmaster General as SEDITION


Closing: Did African-Americans take a step towards equality considering their efforts in helping America win WWI?

Student groups will gather facts to answer this question AND, together prepare for their two-question quiz the following day.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Please explain contributions that African-Americans made to their country and to our allies during the Great War (7 points)
  • Explain how the Great War became a launching point for what became the Civil Rights Movement. (9 points)