For many of the 200,000 black soldiers sent to Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, encounters with French civilians and colonial African troops led them to imagine a world beyond Jim Crow. They returned home to join activists working to make that world real. In narrating the efforts of African American soldiers and activists to gain full citizenship rights as recompense for military service, Adriane Lentz-Smith illuminates how World War I mobilized a generation.
Black and white soldiers clashed as much with one another as they did with external enemies. Race wars within the military and riots across the United States demonstrated the lengths to which white Americans would go to protect a carefully constructed caste system. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric of self-determination but battered by the harsh realities of segregation, African Americans fought their own “war for democracy,” from the rebellions of black draftees in French and American ports to the mutiny of Army Regulars in Houston, and from the lonely stances of stubborn individuals to organized national campaigns. African Americans abroad and at home reworked notions of nation and belonging, empire and diaspora, manhood and citizenship. By war’s end, they ceased trying to earn equal rights and resolved to demand them.
This beautifully written book reclaims World War I as a critical moment in the freedom struggle and places African Americans at the crossroads of social, military, and international history.
Brimming with energy and insight, this rich and powerful book opens new vistas on the early civil rights movement, and adds knowledge and texture to the history of World War I and the African American experience.
An important book about the impact of World War I on black Americans. A host of historical figures, many of whom will be new to readers, took the path to activism rather than submit passively to the realities of Jim Crow America. Their stories are inspiring, and this book will establish Lentz-Smith in the front rank of young scholars of the African American experience.
During World War I, the United States was governed by a president who believed white men were the 'real citizens' of the nation. In this powerful, elegant book Lentz-Smith shows how African American thinkers, activists, teachers, and soldiers seized that war, at home and abroad, as an opportunity to prove otherwise. Freedom Struggles brings this pivotal moment in U.S. history to life, and announces the arrival of an important new historian.
Lentz-Smith has crafted a superlative internationalized local history that transcends borders yet is complicated by definitions of national and parochial identities. In her skillful hands, the freedom struggle comes alive as a range of African American men and women fight for full rights even while the forces of Jim Crow and colonialism appear to become more entrenched. This book adds a significant chapter in our understanding of the long struggle for freedom both in the United States and globally.
With acute analysis, Duke historian Adriane Lentz-Smith's Freedom Struggles traces the experiences of the 200,000 African-American soldiers who shipped out to France in 1917 and 1918 with the American Expeditionary Forces. She argues that the Great War "supplied a new theater for Americans to wage old battles over nation and state, color and access, power and rights."
In offering a unique vision of African American aspirations, frustrations, and political sensibilities, Lentz-Smith convincingly contends that the Great War era represented a "transformative moment" in the black freedom struggle...[Freedom Struggles] provides a thoughtful, accessible portrayal of a civil rights struggle we believe we might already understand but one that we should come to know much, much better.
Lentz-Smith's terrific new book is a balanced and beautifully written account of the black soldier's experience in World War I. It raises important questions about the ways that law and status in the United States is shaped by developments abroad.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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