Throughout the month of February, also called Black History Month, many exhibits, fairs, and events came to Kansas City in order to share and show a glimpse of African American culture. Throughout the city, there were certain speakers, art events, and cultural curtains that showcased what being black meant to them and tried to highlight the plights and pursuits of African Americans throughout American history.
The National World War I Museum And Memorial did an online showcase on the African Americans throughout the war. Called “Make Way for Democracy”, it portrays the lives of African Americans during and after the war. What the online exhibition gave is rare images of African Americans during and before World a War I, highlighting the reasons that they went War, which were the same as every American: patriotism, courage, and a sense of duty to a nation. Other African Americans, it states, went to war in order to improve social and economic and political conditions that didn’t often favor them back in the homeland. It’s a simple exhibit that showed the perspective of African Americans during the war, and how they gave their service to America.
The Exhibit goes through the history of American involvement in World War I, telling how the Selective Service Act invited all men, regardless of race, to fight in the war. Many African Americans joined for the same reason that other soldiers join, the Exhibit said. The Exhibit also goes over the service of Sergeant Vernon Coffey, an African American from Kansas City who joined the 806th Pioneer Infantry at Fort Riley. He was shipped off to France, where he attended gas school at Langres, France and he served at ammunition dumps at Flury and Lima. When he came back, he decided to retire and became an attorney, then a preacher at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Exhibit also goes the plights of African Americans in the war. Despite being a significant party the army, nearly 13%, they were still heavily discriminated against. African Americans, roughly about 80% of them, were not allowed into actual combat. However, two African American combat divisions were formed; the American Army had the 92nd Division and the French had the 93rd Division. The 93rd Division was especially renown, earning the name the “Harlem Hellfighters”. Among its members, Sergeant Henry Johnson was the first American to win the French Croix de Guerre for his bravery. While African Americans didn’t win any awards from America, the Exhibit states that they won many awards from France. They, the 93rd Division, won 68 Croix de Guerre and 24 Distinguished Service Crosses, and their bravery encouraged the United States to consider ending segregation in the future.
African American women were also influential in the wartime. While they didn’t fight or were not active in combat, like other women during the war, they found themselves in factory jobs, aiding in hospitals, as club administrations office workers, railroad workers, and other jobs aiding the war effort. They went into any industry that aided the war.
What can be learned from the Exhibit is the impact of the African Americans during the War. The pictures are inspiring and at times, beautiful, showing the powerful service of African Americans who were discriminated both at home and in war. Yet, they served for the same reasons as many others. Their influence, their awards, and their victories showed to White America that perhaps segregation wasn’t the way forward. While the service of brave African Americans in the war did not end segregation and did not bring about equality, their fight was not only against the enemy away, but the enemy at home and they fought for their rights as well.