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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Topic: FreedomTopic: IdentityTopic: InstitutionsTopic: PoliticsTopic: Forward
Topic: Forward
Toolbox Overview: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Resource Menu: Forward
Text 1. 1913: Fifty Years
Text 2. Two Views
Text 3. The NAACP
Text 4. Protest
Text 5. Popular Culture
Text 6. World War I
» Reading Guide
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Text 7. 1917: Forward


RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
6.  World War I
- Emmett J. Scott, Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War, 1919
  Ch. 3: "Official Recognition of the Negro's
  Interest"
  Ch. 6: "A Critical Situation in the Camps"

      WWI Soldiers

Although this seminar marks its end point at 1917, months before the first American soldiers arrived in Europe, it would be incomplete without a look at the impact of the Great War on African Americans at home. The doubts that whites voiced about blacks' loyalty and military trainability reveal the depth of the racism prevalent at the time. The mistreatment of black soldiers in training camps was documented by the NAACP, which worked to alleviate the hardships. The anger directed at African American war workers and labor organizers was toxic, and at times broke into mob violence. The war to "make the world safe for democracy" had myopic leadership.

One war-related decision of the federal government, however, was a positive signal to black Americans. In 1917 the secretary of Tuskegee Institute, Emmett J. Scott, was appointed to the Department of War as a "confidential advisor in matters affecting the interests of the 10,000,000 Negroes of the United States, and the part they are to play in connection with the present war." After the war he wrote the extensively illustrated Scott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War. In these two chapters, we read of the charged environment in which Scott took his position, and of the conditions in the southern training camps. A carefully constructed work, it speaks volumes "between the lines." 13 pages (not including photographs).


Discussion questions
  1. How does Scott address the social tensions that surrounded the entry of African American soldiers into the war effort?
  2. What does he write for his white audience? for his black audience?
  3. To what extent is Scott's work propaganda? What realities can you perceive within his official and submissive prose? Where does he stand?
  4. How did blacks' participation in the Spanish-American War and the Mexican incursion of 1916 affect their reception as soldiers in the Great War?
  5. Did the Great War ultimately help or hinder blacks' attainment of respect and rights?

» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  What gains and setbacks mark the period of 1907 to 1917 for black Americans?
  •  To what extent did African Americans set their own paths forward?
  •  How were the lives of ordinary black people affected by black and white leadership?
  •  What identity had African Americans created, as a group, between 1865 and 1917?
  •  What insights could black Americans take forward into the postwar years and the 1920s?




Toolbox: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Freedom | Identity | Institutions | Politics | Forward


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