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Chapter Twenty-one. The Black Soldier in Two World Wars

Hatward “Woody” Farrar

Subject Race and Ethnicity Studies » African American Studies

Key-Topics army, First World War, Second World War

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230663.2004.00023.x


Black soldiers were marginalized in both the First and Second World Wars. In neither war were black servicemen accorded the attention, fairness, and respect paid to their white counterparts. Rather, the armed forces only grudgingly allowed their participation. When given the opportunity, African American soldiers, sailors, and aviators fought bravely and well, but in both wars the prevailing doctrine in the military was racial segregation and exclusion. According to the high commands of the Armed Forces, African Americans were too lazy, stupid, and cowardly to make good soldiers, sailors or aviators. If they were good for anything it was to load, unload, and move cargo, and cook and serve food to white officers and enlisted personnel. Combat for blacks was out of the question, except perhaps in racially segregated units and squadrons. This marginalization has been reflected in the historiography of the First and Second World Wars. The best-known historians of the world wars – John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, Gerhard Weinberg, Michael Lyons, and Paul Fussell – either do not mention the contributions of African Americans or devote only a page or two in their massive works to such contributions. For example, Gerhard Weinberg, in his almost 1200-page history of the Second World War A World at Arms devotes just two pages to African Americans ( Weinberg 1994 : 495–6). Despite the slighting ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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