Fighting for Respect: Images of black WWI soldiers who faced discrimination back home


These are the striking images that reveal the African-American soldiers of the Great War – who faced racial discrimination even when they simply wanted to fight for their country

When the First World War broke out there were just four ‘colored’ regiments in the American military, but by the end nearly 370,000 African Americans had served in some capacity – paving the way for future generations.

Over one million African Americans responded to draft calls and the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers because the quotas for African Americans were filled within a week of Woodrow Wilson’s declaration.

These images show crowds of black men lining up to enlist for service in Chicago in 1917 and Ike Sims from Atlanta whose eleven sons drafted for the army.

Meanwhile other photos show African American troops arriving in France, carrying their good luck charms as they head to war and wounded black soldiers receiving chocolates and cigarettes from the Red Cross.

Members of the 367th Regiment, the 'Buffaloes', are presented with colors in front of the Union League Club, New York City. Many black regiments had Buffalo as part of their nickname after the original Buffalo Soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars/ The Native Americans gave them the name for their courage and skill in battle

Two members of the 505th Engineers show how they 'did it over there' during their return on the S.S. Roma in 1918. One man wears an Imperial German helmet while another points a rifle at him 

Men of the 369th Infantry during the Harlem Victor Parade in February 1919. While still segregated, the Army was far more progressive than other parts of the military - such as Marines, which banned blacks entirely

Part of Squadron A, 351st Field Artillery, returning on the transport in Louisville in 1918. Most of these men were from Philadelphia. Despite making up just 10 per cent of the US population, black communities provided 13 per cent of draft volunteers during the First World War

Hospital Corps Detachment prior to shipping out, circa 1917. While hundreds of thousands of African Americans were conscripted, no combat roles were given to black soldiers until this year. Instead they served in labour or support units

African American troops arriving in France, circa 1917. These men would have been among the first black soldiers allowed to fight on the front lines after the creation of the first mostly-black combat units, the 92nd and 93rd infantry, in this year

Privates Robinson Cleve of the 539th Engineers, and Daniel Nelson of the 372nd Infantry Regiment, both wounded in action, pose with war dogs Crown Prince and Kaiser Bill on their return to the US from the First World War

Members of the 369th Regiment wearing French Adrian Helmets, taken in France, circa 1917. These men are likely from the 93rd Division, which was 'loaned' to the French Army because American units were still wary of African Americans being involved in combat

Members of the 369th Regiment returning from France in March 1919, decorated with French War Crosses. African Americans volunteered in their droves for military service, having seen the status and praise achieved by those who had served in the Indian Wars and Spanish-American War before them

Decorated soldiers of the 369th division return home with their French Croix de Guerre awards. Front Row (left to right) is Private Ed 'Eagle Eye' Williams, Corporal Herbert 'Lamp Light' Taylor, Private Leon Fraitor and Private Ralph 'Kid Hawk' Hawkins. Back Row (left to right) is Sergeant H.D. Prinas, Sergeant Dan Storms, Private Joe 'Kid Woney' Williams, Private Alfred 'Kid Buck' Hanley, and Corporal T.W. Taylor

The 369th march passed the New York Public Library at 42nd St. and Fifth Ave. during the victory parade, 1919

Black troops play against their white counterparts in a game of baseball, Hyde Park, London, in July 1918

Soldiers from Philadelphia who were either wounded in combat or gassed return home on the Giuseppe Verdi, in 1919

Black officers of the 366th Regiment, 92nd Division on their return to the United States in February 1919. The creation of black combat units also saw the creation of the first black officers, as it was felt men were more likely to follow somebody of their own race into the fighting

A group of black draftees from Galesburg, IL, circa 1917. More than a million black men volunteered for service in the war, and recruiters had to stop accepting applications because the roles had been filled

Henry Johnson (left) and Neadham Roberts (right), both of the 369th, routed a numerically superior German raiding party in France. The two men earned the French Croix de Guerre for their actions, and Johnson, nicknamed 'Black Death', posthumously earned the Medal of Honour in 2015

Wounded men of the 369th division ride during the Harlem Parade following the end of the war in 1919

Members of the 93rd Division stand in front of the barracks in France, 1918

Black men line up to enlist for active service in the 8th Illinois Infantry Regiment in Chicago in 1917

African American men enlisting at the 'Colored' Y.M.C.A. for the 'Negro' Officers' Training Camp at Fort Des Moines

American Red Cross workers distribute chocolate, cigarettes, and other items to wounded soldiers of the 93rd Division at the Red Cross Hospital No. 5 at Auteuil, France

Ike Sims of Atlanta, GA, 87 years old, had eleven sons enlist in the service during the First World War. Here he holds placards with a star representing each of them 

American troops of the 93rd Division receive machine gun training in France, 1918, after being 'loaned' to the French military

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