Left of Black – Service and Citizenship

Left of Black – Service and Citizenship


(music playing) (music playing) (music playing) (music playing) Thinking about absence of World War in how we think and write about American history but more specifically, the absence of African Americans in that story. So thinking about the significance of the World War I era for African Americans, for peoples of African descent more broadly, and then thinking very specifically about the role of Black soldiers both in terms of their service, but also their symbolism and what they represented. In what ways were African American soldiers really encapsulating these struggles, these contentious debates about the very meaning of democracy itself? In which way did their service stake claim to a type of citizenship, a type of manhood, that African Americans were striving for in the context of the war era? But also how were they used? Symbolically, rhetorically, for broader struggles of black freedom and equality, during the World War I era more broadly. The Civil War was really important, because this was really the formative period in thinking about certainly the black military experience, the role of African Americans in the Union Army, close to 200,000 serving exploits in the Massachusetts 54th, but also how that leads into the direct formation of a type of African American citizenship. So we see African Americans like W. E. B. Du Bois, other black leaders who are very explicitly harkening back to the Civil War and Reconstruction era, and thinking about World War I as the next step in this journey, this quest for African American citizenship, and how military service, how heroic exploits on the battle field, shedding blood, engaging in this kind of ultimate sacrifice as citizens is going to be the key, the linchpin for African Americans staking claim to their citizenship. For those black folks who traveled overseas, roughly 200,000 African Americans fight and labor in France, it was a remarkable experience. For the idea of a sharecropper from rural Alabama going to France for the first time in his life, crossing the Atlantic, interacting with white folks who have a different sensibility

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