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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
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U.S. In World War I (1917-18)


Soldiers in tribunalIn 1917, Congress declared war on Germany. The black community supported the war, but with serious reservations; black soldiers, they knew, would suffer discrimination in a Jim Crow army. In the summer of 1917, soldiers of the all-black Third Battalion, 24th infantry, were assigned to Fort Logan outside of Houston, Texas. Houston had the largest black community in the state of Texas at the time, with a police force that was particularly aggressive towards black people. Clashes developed
One all-black regiment, the 369th, fought side by side with French soldiers as equals, earning an unprecedented number of French military honors. Soldiers in battle
between the police and the soldiers, many of whom were not Southerners and not used to segregation. The soldiers suffered beatings and unjustified arrests from the police. When a rumor spread that Corporal Charles
Baltimore had been killed by the police, his fellow soldiers prepared to march into town and take revenge. Baltimore had been beaten by the police but was not dead, but the soldiers had passed their emotional point of no return. They marched into town and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, sixteen whites and four black men were dead. In a rushed and secret court-martial, 19 men were sentenced to death, 43 to life imprisonment. The first thirteen to die were not told their sentence, nor the date of their execution, until hours before they were to die. They were denied their right to appeal to the president and were hanged on the night of December 11, 1917.

The protest against the denial of the men's right of appeal caused President Woodrow Wilson to commute the sentences of some of the other men scheduled to die. Still, six more men were executed the following year.
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climate in Houston that contributed to the shootout in 1917.

Discrimination followed black soldiers in France as well. Not only were they segregated, but many were severely punished for minor offenses, and a few were executed for crimes for which there was no real evidence that they were guilty. Only a few black officers were given commissions, and black soldiers were rarely given training comparable to whites. The French were warned not to fraternize with blacks, but many ignored the request and formed interracial friendships.

One all-black regiment, the 369th, fought side by side with French soldiers as equals. The men of the 369th earned an unprecedented number of French military honors: one hundred and 71 Croix de Guerre, France's highest military medal. The World War had created a new impetus and a new confidence in individual the writer Alain Locke called the "New Negro." African-American soldiers hoped that their patriotic service would earn them recognition, acceptance, and equality in American society upon their return, but such hopes were not realized.

-- Richard Wormser

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Did you Know ...


Lt. James Reese Europe led the 369th Infantry Regiment band, dubbed the "Harlem Hellfighters."
Related Pages
Spanish American War

World War II

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