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How Black World War I vets shaped the civil rights movement | Futurity

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How Black World War I vets shaped the civil rights movement | Futurity The hundreds of thousands of African Americans who served in the US Army during World War I and returned home as heroes soon faced many more battles over their equality in American society, according to historian Chad Williams.

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While many celebrated black soldiers in the streets of New York at the end of the war, they also soon encountered a wave of hatred and violence. Williams, a chair in history at Brandeis University and the author of Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), sat down with BrandeisNow to discuss the aftermath of World War I for black people in America.

Q: BrandeisNow

How were black soldiers received in the US after serving in the war? In what ways were they celebrated, and in what ways did they face hostility?

A: Chad Williams

African-American soldiers were celebrated as returning heroes after the war. Welcome Home parades took place in small towns and big cities. On February 17, 1919, tens of thousands of New Yorkers welcomed home the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment with a massive parade on Fifth Avenue and into Harlem. Black soldiers symbolized the hopes and aspirations African Americans had for true democracy in the United States after the war.

Conversely, many white Americans viewed returning black soldiers as a threat because of their military service and exposure to new ideas about race and equality, especially in France. Many black veterans were victims of a wave of racial violence in 1919 that came to be known as the “Red Summer.”


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