African American History Collections Document of the Month Women's History

May 2017 Documents of the Month | Photos from WWI Era

By John Coski

Prompted by Germany’s declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States entered “the Great War” on the side of the Allies in April 1917. While the U.S. government worried about the loyalty of millions of German-Americans, other “hyphenated Americans” went out of their way to demonstrate their support of the American war effort.

A half-century after the end of the Civil War, former Confederates determined to prove anew that they could both honor the memory of men who had fought to divide the Union in the 1860s and contribute to America’s war to “save the world for democracy.” The United Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and other organizations encouraged enlistments in the Army, bought war bonds, and celebrated Woodrow Wilson’s championing of “self-determination” of nations.

African-Americans North and South were enduring one of the darkest chapters in the history of American race relations in 1917, but influential black citizens decided that it was important to put aside their grievances and “close ranks” with their fellow citizens in support of the war. African-American men exceeded their enlistment quotas, but the U.S. Army used most of them as labor troops. Among those units that did see action – most of them assigned to the French Army – the 15th New York Militia (designated the 369th Regiment) was the most celebrated.

These images from the Museum’s collection – a photograph from a United Daughters of the Confederacy scrapbook and a stereograph from the John Motley Collection – show “Confederate” and African-American support for the war effort in New York City. 


On May 8th, the Museum’s History Happy Hour series features a program about former Confederates, African-Americans, and the United States in World War I.