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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
World War I Unit

Lesson 3: Black Alabamians in World War I

Background Information for Teachers

America's justification for entering the war on the side of the Allies "to make the world safe for democracy" had a special resonance to black Americans who had been for so long denied an effective political voice in the United States. Some 400,000 African Americans served in the U.S. Army during the First World War, most of them in all-black units in support positions as laborers, mechanics, and musicians.

 

The need for the United States to enlist the entire American citizenry into the war effort met special problems in the southern states where the races were historically segregated. Still, its temperate climate made the South the home to numerous training camps for military personnel during World War I. The prospect of whites and blacks training together offended many Alabamians, as it did other white southerners. Camps in Alabama escaped incidents, but racial conflicts did occur at a number of training sites across the nation.

 

Special efforts to organize blacks on the home front to contribute to the cause also were undertaken by the federal government in Alabama. Like their white counterparts, black women's groups sewed clothing, canned food, and sold stamps to support the war effort. Black men filled industrial positions in the mines and mills, responding to new economic opportunities and, perhaps, to the unceasing patriotic propaganda to defeat the Kaiser and his Huns.

 

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
  1. Describe the racial climate of Alabama.
  2. Discuss some of the war-related concerns of black and white Alabamians.
  3. Analyze the multiple sides of an issue (problem resolution skills).
  4. Synthesize an historic hypothesis to the concerns of race related matters during a state of war.

Suggested Activities
  1. Make copies of the documents for the students.
  2. Use the suggested guidelines for analyzing a written document at the beginning of this unit of information.
  3. Ask students to write a letter of response to John W. Inzer from both Senator Bankhead and the Secretary of War. Both historic figures should show concern for the social problems and the economic obligations of the United States.
  4. Assign students another letter from Mr. Lloyd Hooper in response to Rev. Rameau's letter or Booker T. Washington's letter.
  5. Have the students look at the documents from those soldiers who were killed in action. Ask the students the following questions:
    1. Why is this information important?
    2. Choose one of the soldiers.
      1. What is his race?
      2. What was his level of education?
      3. What was his occupation before his service in the war?
      4. What was his assignment in the military?
      5. Do you think that his race affected his assignment during the war? Why or why not?
      6. How do you think that this information could have been used? Why do you think that this information was recorded?
    3. What kind of effect did the war have on communities, towns and churches?
    4. Write a news article announcing the death of the soldier you have chosen. Be sure to describe the contributions that he made to his community.
    5. Using a world map, try to locate the place in which the soldier died.

Documents
  • Document 1: Inzer, John W., Ashville, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 6 September 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 2: Adjutant General, Washington, D.C., to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 11 September 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 3: Rameau, Rev. P. Colfax, Birmingham, Alabama, to Gov. Charles Henderson, Montgomery, Alabama, 7 August 1917. Alabama Council of Defense (1917-1919), Program Administrative Files, SG 18899, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 4: Washington, Booker T., Jr., Tuskeegee Institute, Alabama, to Lloyd M. Hooper, Montgomery, Alabama, 6 June 1918. Alabama Council of Defense (1917-1919), Program Administrative Files, SG 18899, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 5: "Biographical Sketch of Columbus Burrough." ADAH Public Information Service File - Alabamians at War, SG 17107, Folder 21, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 6: "Biographical Sketch of Willie M. Redd." ADAH Public Information Service File - Alabamians at War, SG 17107, Folder 21, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.