African-American Soldiers Honored for their Service at U.S. World War I Centennial Commission Ceremony
African-American Soldiers Honored for their Service
at U.S. World War I Centennial Commission Ceremony
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United States World War I Centennial Commission
commemorated the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War
I during "In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace: Centennial Commemoration
of the U.S. Entry into World War I" in Kansas City, Mo. on April 6. Over
350,000 African-Americans served in the military during World War I,
making up some 13 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, which exceeded their
percentage of the total population of the nation at that time.
On April 6, 1917, after much debate, the United States entered World War
I. The ceremony in Kansas City was presented to encourage every American
to reflect on what that decision meant, how it continues to influence
the nation, and how every American family, then and now, is linked to
that perilous time. The ceremony highlighted the impact upon varied
aspects of American life and demographic groups, including
African-Americans fighting abroad and those at home. The "Great
Migration" of African-Americans leaving the South to escape
discrimination was underway, and many viewed service in the Great War as
an opportunity to push for racial equality and reform.
Passages and excerpts from writings of the time, read during the
ceremony, shed light on the dilemma many African-Americans faced about
whether to support the war effort. Some passages illustrated what many
African-Americans viewed at the time as the hypocrisy of the U.S.
entering the war on the grounds of fighting for democracy in Europe,
while many at home lacked basic rights.
In attendance and reading an excerpt of an editorial by W.E.B. Du Bois
was Noble Sissle, Jr., son of Noble Sissle, a renowned jazz musician and
co-founder of the 369th Regimental Band.
"Many colored persons… may easily make the mistake of supposing that
the present war is far removed from the color problem in America….
This attitude is a mistake," read Noble Sissle Jr. from the W.E.B.
DuBois editorial. "The present war in Europe is one of the great
disasters due to race and color prejudice and it but foreshadows greater
disasters in the future…."
Sissle Jr.'s father joined the New York 369th Infantry Regiment, where
he formed the 369th Regimental Band alongside Band Leader James Reese
Europe. The 369th Regimental Band's purpose was to play music during
funerals for fallen soldiers, though the band is better known today for
introducing jazz to Europe. During the prelude, Sissle, Jr. also spoke
about his father's experience during the war.
"When the precious blood of our own spilled upon the battlefields of
France, we began to realize that for the first time we were on the alter
upon which all of us might be called to pay the supreme sacrifice," read
Sissle Jr. from an excerpt of the memoirs of Jim Europe. "Even the band,
whose only duty was supposed to be that of caring for the dead and
living, changed us forever."
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II of Missouri's 5th Congressional District
pointed out in his remarks during the Pre-Ceremony that during World War
I, every person who served, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity,
contributed to the war effort. "Sacrifice came from every race and
religion," he said.
One example of an African-American soldier who greatly contributed in
World War I was Kansas City native Wayne Miner. "Wayne Miner was
documented as one of the last soldiers to die in World War I," stated
Cleaver in his address to the audience. "Miner was killed performing an
act of bravery. In the final hours of war, he was shot delivering
ammunition to a gun post under fire."
The bravery of African-American soldiers during World War I helped lead
to victory, and also helped begin a chain of events leading to the Civil
Rights Movement. The program, through readings, a moment of silence, and
performances, honored the heroism of African-American soldiers.
You may watch "In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace: Centennial
Commemoration of the U.S. Entry into World War I" here.
To request an interview with the Commission, or its spokespeople, or any
of the participants in the ceremony, please contact Paulo Sibaja,
ABOUT THE WORLD WAR I CENTENNIAL COMMISSION
The Commission was established by the World War I Centennial Commission
Act, passed by the 112th Congress and signed by President Barack Obama
on January 16, 2013, and is responsible for planning, developing, and
executing programs, projects, and activities to commemorate the
centennial of World War I. The mission is to educate the country's
citizens about the causes, courses and consequences of the war; honor
the heroism and sacrifice of those Americans who served, and commemorate
the Great War through public programs and initiatives. To learn more
about the Commission activities, visit ww1cc.org/tools.
To further the mission, the Commission is leading the effort to build
the National World War I Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington, D.C.
to honor the 4.7 million American veterans who served. To learn more
about the Memorial, visit ww1cc.org/memorial.
The Commission's Founding Sponsor is the Pritzker Military Museum &
Library (PMML) in Chicago, Ill. PMML is a nonpartisan research
institution dedicated to enhancing public understanding of military
history and the sacrifices made by America's veterans and service
members. To learn more about PMML, visit www.pritzkermilitary.org.
The presenting sponsor for "In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace:
Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry into World War I" is the
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) in Kansas City, Mo.
The VFW is a nonprofit veterans service organization comprised of
eligible veterans and military service members from the active, guard
and reserve forces. To learn more about the VFW, visit www.vfw.org.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL
The National World War I Museum and Memorial is America's leading
institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the
Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. The Museum
holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents
in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to
preserving the objects, history and experiences of the war. The Museum
takes visitors of all ages on an epic journey through a transformative
period and shares deeply personal stories of courage, honor, patriotism
and sacrifice. Designated by Congress as America's National World War I
Museum and Memorial and located in downtown Kansas City, Mo., the
National World War I Museum and Memorial inspires thought, dialogue and
learning to make the experiences of the Great War era meaningful and
relevant for present and future generations. To learn more, visit