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African Americans in U.S. Foreign PolicyFrom the Era of Frederick Douglass to the Age of Obama$

Linda Heywood, Allison Blakely, Charles Stith, and Joshua C. Yesnowitz

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252038877

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252038877.001.0001

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White Shame/Black Agency

White Shame/Black Agency

Race as a Weapon in Post–World War I Diplomacy

Chapter:
(p.109) 5 White Shame/Black Agency
Source:
African Americans in U.S. Foreign Policy
Author(s):

Vera Ingrid Grant

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252038877.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the role of race in the transformation of the former German enemy into an American friend that took place in the Rhineland occupation zone between 1918 and 1923. It proposes that in the crucible of the occupation zone, dissimilar and heightened American and German understandings and practices of race converged with usual postwar indignities of brutality, revenge, and survival. What emerged was a transformed global pattern of racial perspectives and reconciled alliances. W. E. B. Du Bois named this reorganization of racial discourse “the discovery of personal whiteness among the world's peoples.” The chapter proposes that another stream of interactions bound Germans and Americans together: they grappled with their perceptions of interior “racialized” enemies, deepened their crafting of white supremacy, and expressed similar interior visions while at work on their world visions.

Keywords:   Germany, American foreign policy, Rhineland occupation, race, white supremacy, racism

On October 5, 1920, an American military policeman arrested a British subject “(negro)” in a café in Antwerp, Belgium, believing he was an African American soldier at large. Containing the presence and activities of African American soldiers in Europe during and after the First World War was an unspoken yet urgent preoccupation of the military. The desire was that the practice of race in Europe look and feel like that in America, a system known as Jim Crow. In this racial system African American soldiers did not casually sit in cafés and enjoy the company and civil graces of larger society.1 The soldier was not American, however, and the misidentification, occurring midway during the American occupation of the Rhine, from 1918 to 1923, led to international complications. It was a confusing affair and provoked an American military investigation and correspondence between the United States and Great Britain’s consulate although it occurred on Belgian soil. The case received singular mention in the seven-volume American Forces in Germany, 1918–1923, published by the U.S. government, in a section titled “Operation of American Military Police Outside American Area.” The story appeared under a chapter listing “miscellaneous policies.”2

(p.110) Although an African American soldier did not directly figure in this matter, I argue that it was the presence of African American soldiers and bodies in Europe that disturbed, confused, and confounded U.S. foreign policy regarding race directly before, during, and after the Great War. In the situation described above it was the misidentification of a black soldier that exposed an uneasy juncture of the usually codified material practice of American race once it ventured overseas. The difficulties intrinsic to asserting the visual indexicality of the black race in America brushed up against a gamut of European national black belongings and posed a new problem for the American military. The case illuminates the limits of American foreign policy as it converged with domestic American military racial expediency regarding African American soldiers. I excavate it in this chapter as a signal case where the theoretical intersections of race, gender, and nation, as understood and expressed by American military discourse, resulted in an extraordinarily pulverized mix. While it ballooned into an international incident at the time, it drew no attendant media attention, and it lingered only briefly as a diplomatic embarrassment subsequently buried in the appendixes of American military history. Racial encounters during the Great War usually remained within the national borders of history; and the experiences of African American soldiers strained these national categories as if when they traversed the Atlantic they wreaked havoc on European and American attempts to contain their colonial legacies and adjust and shape their postwar maps of empire.

This chapter examines the role of race in the transformation of the former German enemy into an American friend that took place in the Rhineland occupation zone between 1918 and 1923. I propose that in the crucible of the occupation zone, dissimilar and heightened American and German understandings and practices of race converged with usual postwar indignities of brutality, revenge, and survival. What emerged was a transformed global pattern of racial perspectives and reconciled alliances. W.E.B. Du Bois named this reorganization of racial discourse “the discovery of personal whiteness among the world’s peoples.”3 I propose that another stream of interactions bound the two national groups—Germans and Americans—together: they grappled with their perceptions of interior “racialized” enemies, deepened their crafting of white supremacy, and expressed similar interior visions while at work on their world visions. Although Germany had suddenly lost her colonial empire, some of the ramped-up effects of that adventure had reverberated back home. I would further argue that a gap exists between the representations and practices of nationalism and racism. It is a fluctuating gap between the two poles of a contradiction and a forced identification, and it is perhaps when this identification is apparently complete that the aperture is most visible. The gap is not a contradiction between nationalism and racism as such, but a slippage between these determinate forms, (p.111) between the political objectives of nationalism and the crystallization of racism on a particular object or “(negro),” when they converge at a particular moment. Étienne Balibar discusses this suggested lacuna as a gliding or slipperiness of discourse when “a racial signifier has to transcend national differences and organize ‘transnational’ solidarities so as to be able, in return, to ensure the effectivity of nationalism.” Balibar includes European national identity formations in his analysis and the slippage contained within the discourse of anti-Semitism, however he reaches a similar notion of global white consciousness that was defined before the First World War by W.E.B. Du Bois: “At the same time, the European or Euro-American nations, locked in a bitter struggle to divide up the world into colonial empires, recognized that they formed a community and shared an ‘equality’ through that very competition, a community and an equality to which they gave the name ‘White.’”4

If we use the occupation of Germany as a staging ground—this specific Allied occupation turf of the Rhineland that went from Allied turf occupied by the French to the American zone—as an alternate site of inquiry from which to examine the trajectories of racial history, we may examine anew how race operated in the occupation zones after the Great War. I suggest this approach instead of looking at particular explosions of race—in the instance of the propaganda war around the use of colonial troops in the French zone, for example. I see the two approaches—strategies of occupation and strategies of racial subjection—as intricately entwined and interdependent. And if we may envision an occupation after a conflict as the necessary codicil of war to determine or ensure the negotiated peace, then we may see “race” brandished as a weapon of war. If we examine the experiences of African American soldiers in the First World War through a disciplinary lens as a significant historical narrative, we can tease out the tensions of the American national story of race as a predominant social vector in a domestic and imperial policy of American white supremacy, a policy growing in virulence after the war. Within Germany the everyday citizen’s experience of race was most often an indirect experience of empire discourse—both the overly harsh or bleak actual colonial encounters described in press and public forums and the strange adventures and dreams of story, novels, transforming popular visual culture. “In the course of the twentieth century, American racial classifications tended to become more rigid. … Ironically, the scientific community moved in the opposite direction by refuting previous assumptions of significant biological differences.”5

In the twenty-first century the concept of race itself is undergoing a metamorphosis; an unraveling of the discourse found at the dawn of the twentieth century when “race” referred to both black and white pseudo-scientific and national categories that together formed a crowded and seemingly rigid hierarchy. (p.112) Whether we discuss one more ethnic history of the Great War, usually a domestic “other” than one of the prime national actors in the conflict and most often a contributory narrative excavated at considerable expense and difficulty by their authors, we are presented with teleological highlights and insights offered for present-day consumers who are content with victories of our “post-racial” society or otherwise we support in heroic-history those seeking valorous and exemplary support to those still in the struggle. If we look at how race works in this first major conflict of the twentieth century, perhaps neither consumer is sated, but we may gain additional and crucial insights and contend with our current preoccupations of nation building, violence, and entangled racial legacies. I consider a further interrogation of race relations in Europe immediately after World War I and, in particular, examine the discourse of and about American soldiers in that period, both white and black, along with the culture of the American military government in the occupation zone. The Great War and its postwar discourse on race was crafted and shaped by the development of what Du Bois called “a white global consciousness.” I suggest it was an uneasy formation, and this new awareness of a possible white racialized and globalized solidarity included its own exclusions and reconciliations. I argue that not only had the recently vanquished Germany used race in this period as a weapon of war—in the colonial outpost of German East Africa, for example—but also that an American lesson in racial mores and strategies of subjection was now at hand for Germany, in the occupation zone. This was a lesson to be learned as part and parcel of the reconciliation of Germany as a white civilized nation. It included racial games of subjection along with temporary and fluid inversions of the hierarchies. These games of race were historically woven into the social fabric of the United States and its expression in the larger world; its threads still entangle us.

In this chapter I present a gathering of ephemera—inventions and exertions of “America” as revealed in small acts of song, recollections, and movable practices of “home”—to make visible the practice of race in the Rhineland occupation zone. I juxtapose the performance of blackface variety shows by American soldiers (and other racialized moments within the zone) alongside the American occupying regime’s often brutal encounters with German civilians and demobilized German soldiers. What emerges from this repositioning of historical narrative is a fresh glimpse into the utility and subtle craft of how race worked as a pivotal linchpin of American hierarchical societal patterns. Yes, we know of the deliberate darkness thrust upon African Americans in its lasting formations of legalized segregation after Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Yes, we know of the shunting of north-migrating Southern multitudes into ghettos and exclusionary practices of work and pleasure in the urban landscape of the North. Yes, we (p.113) know of the terror, of the lynching, and of the white supremacist practices. We know of and continue to reveal, examine, and explain the overt practices and consequences of race in America. We also know that American racial practices walked up the ramps of ocean liners crammed with departing American troops bound for the European theater of war and that these practices went along.

African American soldiers were not just a singular minority group experiencing survival under the pressures of the U.S. racial system, in which military service was a paradoxical moment of enduring racism, while disproving the stereotypes and contributing a laudable record of service to the country. In addition, how race operates within the U.S. racial regime as it brushed up against the various European powers’ systems of race became an additional and unacknowledged force field in which power was not only exerted but also used to diminish the experience of African American soldiers. Connecting seemingly disparate narratives into one field of consideration may change the perception of significance and relevance of race once taken as a whole cloth. In this way the minority narratives of war, service, and valor are not relegated to the margins of a dominant narrative, but may be seen to feed into the upholding of the main narrative. Another way of considering this perspective is that of revealing the necessity of race and the racial system of hierarchy to both dominant and minority positions. While these theoretical positions and frameworks for understanding the practice of race in this world, by nation, globally, or transnationally, the theory is often held in a separate discourse while the practice of race stories or histories continues the narratives of dominance and marginality. Similarly, narratives around black Europeans and their historical experience often begin with World War II or the rapidly changing population dynamics in Europe after the war. Colonial legacies are acknowledged as formative of the social legacies of race inside the “mother” countries of various empires or viewed as tales of the homeland—the margins where these dynamics played out. In the metropole race is a different story and practice that not only has its roots within the area’s history but also involves a practice that has a past, present, and continued operation between the European nations and their Western offspring. This dynamic of entering a racialized zone has been well told in U.S. history in the discourses on whiteness, but that narrative may also describe how many immigrants negotiate the U.S. racial system on their way to assimilation and may be applicable to Europe as well.

As historian David Blight has noted, “Traditional historians’ treatment of the black experience. …was a conscious and deliberate manipulation of history and the stakes were high.” He goes on to explain that “the question of stakes involved in struggle over rival versions of history leads us not only to the political and social meanings of what historians do; it also provides an angle of understanding about (p.114) the confluences of history and memory for intellectuals and for the larger society.” I suggest that it is not only the filling in of missing histories that may illuminate the context of the African American experience in the military but also how that experience is still written about as supplementary to the dominant context. Another approach may be to look afresh at the entire social history simultaneously and see how American structures and practices of race dismissed and concealed the experience of African American soldiers, and how the shaping of American military experience and war memories was dependent upon the suppression and diminishment of the African American narratives in the very same military organization. For World War I and its aftermath there are a few examples that may tease out the varying dynamics when these stories are told in tandem.6

Black Doughboys: Real People or Just a Specter?

By the time any American soldiers arrived on the war scene, both European and colonial soldiers were exhausted, depleted, and imbued with a weariness described succinctly by the various war poets. And although African American troops had been the first to aid the European Allies directly, the American army sent them home directly after the war, with only a few battalions remaining behind in France to rebury the dead on the battlefields. The literature on the Rhineland occupation zone, where a quarter of a million white doughboys marched and took possession of territory in December 1918, makes no mention of these African American troops. In From Harlem to the Rhine, Arthur W. Little narrates his adventures with the 369th Infantry, known as the “Men of Bronze” or “Harlem’s Hell Fighters.” They served with the French, not the American, army in Europe. They marched to the Rhine first, arriving on November 20, 1918, and remained for three weeks: “The period of the occupation of the towns of Blodelsheim, Fessenheim, Balgau, and Namsheim, and of the West bank of The Rhine along the area of those towns, by the 369th Infantry, passed uneventfully. We remained about three weeks, when, upon December 9th, we received the welcome orders to start immediately for the west, to prepare to leave the French Army, as the first step towards going home.”7

During the war the presence of African American troops in Europe presented problems for the American racial regime. General John J. Pershing’s office had sent out a memorandum titled “To the French Military Mission—Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops.” This memorandum stated in part: “1) prevent the rise of any ‘pronounced’ degree of intimacy between French officers and Black officers; 2) do not eat with Blacks, shake hands, or seek to meet them outside of military service; and 3) do not commend ‘too highly’ Black troops in the presence of white Americans.”8 In spite of these American military (p.115) instructions, of the four African American “regiments, the 369th, 370th, 371st, and 372nd,” attached to French command, “three were awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.”9

The African American soldier experienced and expressed multiple identities in the Great War that wound up in varying personal, historical, and institutional narratives. The most intriguing of the entries in terms of the conflicted national belonging of the African American soldier is in the title of Frank E. Roberts’s monograph The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93rd in World War I.10 Roberts discusses how this division was broken into several regiments and “attached” to the French army during the war and asks: “How did these men come to be serving under the command of a foreign army?” His answer is that “Pershing used an obscure clause in the formal policy statement to dispose of four regiments of the American infantry troops that neither he nor his corps or division commanders wanted. Pershing decided that the 371st Infantry and its sister regiments—the 369th, 370th, and 372nd—which made up the 93rd Division and were composed of black enlisted men and black and white officers, were undesirable and not essential to the AEF [American Expeditionary Forces] and quietly ceded them to the French Army.”11

In addition to the 93rd Division, other African American soldiers served most often as laborers and supply chain recruits. However, in what is usually mentioned as an aside or marginal issue, they joined other African American soldiers or “colonial troops” in Europe, each of which was affiliated with a different and particular nation. In addition, controversy and propaganda on the appropriateness and danger of armed troops from the African diaspora on European soil was a hefty and paradoxical discourse in its own right. Typically all of the troops from the African diaspora—no matter their colonial origins—received incomplete training and insufficient equipment before and during the grand conflict. Chad Williams offers this description of les soldat noirs: “Unable to master the complexities of modern warfare, such as use of the machine gun, the Tirailleurs Sénégalais were ‘particularly apt for attack and counter-attack,’ a euphemism for their crude battlefield utilization as shock troops.”12 However, a vastly different and contrasting image appeared in the Chicago Defender, a weekly periodical aimed at African American readers. In this medium the audience was offered an image of French colonial troops “Picking Off Germans.” Williams explains that while the editors pursed their discursive strategies to celebrate “blackness” at war and grasped at opportunities to display colonial troops as bastions of modernity and prowess, they may not have known of the disparaging propaganda regarding the French colonial soldiers.13

One example of the cultural artillery launched in racial skirmishes is the Bert Williams song “You’ll Find Old Dixieland in France,” which includes the (p.116) line They’re pickin’ Germans off the Rhine directly after the line Instead of pickin’ melons off the vine. A host of imagery and popular culture visuals presented this simultaneous nostalgic and degrading imagery—a ridiculing and assertive projection of a happy and inept “Negro” soldier figure of the Southern imaginary—who could ludicrously be found “playin’ blues upon a Gatling Gun.14

  • You remember Dancin’ Mose?
  • Folks all called him “Tickle Toes,”
  • You’ll find him “Over There” in France,
  • Alexander’s Band, left old Dixieland,
  • They used to play the “lovin’ blues” for ev’ryone,
  • Now they’re playin’ blues upon a Gatling Gun;
  • Don’t forget “Old Shimme Sam,”
  • Famous boy from Alabam,’
  • He marched away in khaki pants,
  • Instead of pickin’ melons off the vine,
  • They’re pickin’ Germans off the Rhine,
  • You’ll find old Dixieland in France.15

These visual and sonic cultural attacks on black military manhood and prowess became more insistent and prolific as the war continued. Anxiety-filled white citizens may have consumed them with lumps in their throats as countervailing images from personal photographs, portraits, posters, even military panoramic documentation of troop formations and movements proclaimed otherwise. However, the photographic image in “Four Soldiers Reading” (fig. 1) does not depict confusion, servility, or a desire to entertain. If anything, the men seem to entertain themselves in their pose, poise, and pseudo-reading stance. The image also projects a performative moment: a subtle parody of the multiple posters and American ephemera of the white doughboy soldier “reading.”

Maurice O. Wallace interrogates the photography of African American soldiers during the Civil War. He concurs that “photography pictured war” and that war, “in turn, pictured photography as an instrument of national fantasy,” as revealed in the work of William A. Frassanito, William C. Davis, and Alan Trachtenberg. But he further suggests that pictures were used to formalize “for the public imagination the picturable prospect of a new national subject, one fully assimilable into the imagined body politic: namely, the African American male as soldier and, thus, would-be citizen.”16 Fathoming the paradoxically revealing power of the photograph, Wallace demonstrates how the “popularity and proliferation of the black soldier portrait” visually imagined a black manhood and identity for post–Civil War society. However, by the time of the First World War, the national imaginary objective had changed to eliminate the full participation (p.117)

White Shame/Black AgencyRace as a Weapon in Post–World War I Diplomacy

Figure 1. “Four Soldiers Reading,” France, spring 1918.

Stanley B. Burns, MD, and the Burns Archive.

of the African American soldier from the national family. Juxtaposed to examples of national military images of white-bodied warriors set into panoramic frames of rows and rows of the willing and able soldier were the separate groupings of African American soldiers. Here the division of separate and unequal took on its ominous meanings when juxtaposed with those of laboring black bodies as being supportive to the white troops.

The reading soldier was one of the main tactical promotions and consequent provisions made to educate and entertain the soldiers both domestically and away from home during the war and the American occupation of Germany. Literary offerings and persuasions were often brokered as part of multitiered disciplinary measures to counteract boredom and prankish behavior. Especially after the armistice in Europe, libraries for the doughboy were one solution among many others to address the extreme concerns of the occupying doughboys’ violence and animosity toward the Germans. Poster campaigns featuring the reading white doughboy littered the American cultural landscape. As Martin Andresen of the U. S. Army Military History Institute notes in his review of National Library Week, annually sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), (p.118)

White Shame/Black AgencyRace as a Weapon in Post–World War I Diplomacy

Figure 2. A World War I–era poster from Bertrand Patenaude’s A Wealth of Ideas, a book released in conjunction with the 2006 exhibit at Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion.

Poster Collection, Poster ID #US 656, Hoover Institution Archives.

“Secretary Baker kept ‘a room full of senators and diplomats and other dignitaries waiting’ while he developed plans to provide adequate library facilities for the Doughboys.”17 However, the separate accommodations the U.S. Army provided for African American soldiers meant less adequate facilities: “The largest Y.M.C.A. hut in France was one built at Camp Lusitania, St. Nazaire, for (p.119)

White Shame/Black AgencyRace as a Weapon in Post–World War I Diplomacy

Figure 3. An American domestic promotional poster.

Poster Collection, Poster ID #US 715, Hoover Institution Archives.

the use of colored soldiers. … It did service for 9,000 men, and had, in addition to the dry canteen, a library of 1,500 volumes.”18 (See figs. 2 and 3.)

African American soldiers had been welcomed by most of the French as the first American soldiers to aid them, and some contentment emanates from the four faces in “Four Soldiers Reading” that may not have survived the ensuing (p.120) conflict. This parody of the reading soldier is part of a psychological “flip the switch” strategy that African Americans who were employed in the face of the boundless racial animosity endured in the homeland and now carried along overseas. A key feature of the racial mores of white American soldiers was the projected and grotesque double-edged specter of blackness: the foolish bumbling child-man indicated in the Bert Williams song discussed above, coupled with a monstrous projection of danger, along with supposed inappropriate social tendencies and animalistic responses to human relations—mainly heightened violence, criminality, and unbounded sexuality. All of these expanded and ever more delusionary depictions of African Americans had sharpened the psychic racial burdens of life in America and within its colonial expansion landscapes since the late nineteenth century; they were now unleashed anew in the European theater of war and occupation.19

The seriousness of expression evoked in the photograph (fig. 1) resonates simultaneously with a performative parody of soldier-hood and the new vulnerabilities that all African diaspora combatants experienced in Europe. The tale of the arrested black Belgian points to this assumption of criminality on the part of American military police that synergized with their confusion on blackness in Europe and an arrogance of global whiteness. These confusions and anxieties prompted the frequent arrests that African diaspora soldiers were subjected to in Europe. However, the parody performed in the image also points to the enduring tradition of blackface performance within the military by white soldiers and inverts it. In his paradigmatic analysis of blackface minstrelsy in nineteenth-century American culture, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott emphasizes that “blackface acts did not merely confirm an already existent racism—an idealist assumption that ignores the ways in which culture is reproduced. Social feelings and relationships are constantly generated and maintained, regulated and fought over, in the sphere of culture and elsewhere, and. …they began to ease the friction among various segments of the working class, and between workers and class superiors, by seizing on Jim Crow as a common enemy.”20

What role did blackface minstrelsy play in the tumultuous landscape of the American occupation zone in Germany after the Great War? I propose it shaped the discourse of the invisibility of African American participation and presence in an extended theater of war while easing overall doughboy anxiety overseas. Blackness is invoked as a derogatory specter both comedic and grotesque. The practice and ideology of race work in its form of blackface minstrelsy performances in the occupation zone helped occlude actual black experiences of victory and contribution. Furthermore, trajectories and formations of racial games and mockery with intertwined strategies of subjection helped to resolve conflict (p.121) between Americans and Germans. I propose that the work of race helped to redistribute the role of enemy and ally in the occupation zone, and racial acts in the occupation zone eased the friction between Germans and doughboys. There was a lot of friction. German complaints against American troops in the occupation zone highlight the feelings of humiliation and outrage in the face of doughboy arrogance, violence, and abuse.

The choices made by various actors in the post–World War I assessment of the performance of African American soldiers during the war reflected the complicated domestic space—a multivoiced nexus of practical action, dissenting voices, compromise, and at times complicity. In the preliminary draft for The Wounded World, Du Bois would sum up the perfidy of the army high command in four terse phrases: “First, was the effort to get rid of Negro officers; second, the effort to discredit Negro soldiers; third, the effort to spread race prejudice in France; and fourth, the effort to keep Negroes out of the Regular Army.”21 The wonder was that there were four African American units that had performed outstandingly—the 369th, 370th, 371st, and the 372nd of the never completed 93rd Division. These were the infantry regiments that Pershing had hurriedly sent abroad to fight alongside the French. In addition to the American military high command’s promise to immediately lend a number of units to the French while the American Expeditionary Army was being assembled, the escalating racial friction in towns and cities near the camps of the African American units had led Scott to also urge their relocation. It was a mere two months after the Houston or Camp Logan Riot—a mutiny by 156 African American soldiers of the Third Battalion of the all-black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry Regiment in August 1917. So while in Houston in December of that year, 13 court-martialed African American soldiers were hanged in unison for their part in the riots, the men of the 369th, the former New York National Guard regiment, arrived in Brest to support the French. It was among the first American fighting units in France. Desperate for manpower, the French high command pounced on the unit. Its uniforms, weapons, and order of march suddenly became French.

The Rhineland Occupation Zone: Reconsidering Race in a Colonizing Space

Immediately after the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1919, African American troops serving under French command marched into the Rhineland. It was significant to them that they were the first to arrive—as occupiers. They commented sympathetically on the state of the fallen German citizen. They gave the title to their entire wartime adventure “Harlem to the Rhine.” Just days later, however, they quit the Rhineland and reversed their journey, calling it (p.122) “Rhine to Harlem.” These departing soldiers were then quickly replaced by white American doughboys when the territorial zones of the Western occupation of Germany were reconfigured during quick and terse diplomatic negotiations in Paris. The land they had marched upon and occupied had been the French occupation zone for the better part of a month, and now it became the American zone. New American soldiers entered the Rhineland as occupiers. They sang “Dixie” as they marched. They also commented on the state of the German citizen, but in more disparaging ways.

“To the Rhine” was a major propaganda phrase of the American military. It appeared on posters and was used in talks and pep rallies within the military and without in broader society. However, the American soldier did not accomplish this goal of making it to the Rhine. Or did he? The African American soldier did. His story, embedded ethnic accounts of valor and racial progress, is not mentioned in our major histories of the Great War, because he wore the French uniform. Three weeks after the armistice more than a quarter million white American troops marched into Germany to occupy the Rhineland. Representing roughly a third of the total Allied occupying forces, they were joining smaller contingents from France, England, and Belgium. The French forces did include up to forty thousand of their colonial troops, including a large component of African soldiers, whose deployment would come to draw criticism not only from the outraged Germans but also from some French critics at home.22 Units had “cheered when informed they were to participate, and soldiers talked with eagerness of the ‘party.’” Initially “they saw this as the long-awaited chance to get even with the foe.”23 Six months later, when Maj. Gen. Henry T. Allen took command on July 2, 1919, he found a disturbing development in the relations between American soldiers and German civilians: “the moment the Germans showed an insubordinate spirit, the troops reacted violently.” The problem, it seemed to Allen, was that “our young men on the Rhine. …were learning to be real soldiers,” an ongoing process that improved “through strenuous efforts.”24

Imagine an American soldier in Germany just after the First World War. He’s young, white, and victorious. The Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire [Turkey], and Bulgaria) have been defeated—the German “Hun” is beaten. Our soldier arrives in the Rhineland as part of the American Expeditionary Forces who marched into Germany after the armistice to establish the American occupation zone. It is Christmas Day and he smears burnt cork on his face as he prepares for his performance of blackface minstrelsy: “Dec 25th [1918] Had a bum Dinner, I took part in a black face show given by the Co (8 of us) and tried to occupy my mind, but was thinking of home like ‘hell’ the show was a success, my name was Mr. Boten.”25

(p.123) The American troops were in former enemy territory and would remain for four years, but the thrills of victory were few and far between. The military administration sought to curb troop enthusiasm for retaliation and maintain order. If there would be no party, American troops wanted to go home. For unruly, uncomfortable, and bored American troops, blackface minstrelsy provided one of the more tantalizing forms of entertainment available in the sudden monotony of the occupation zone, and this genre, spawned by the practice of race in the United States, became their substitute for a real African American presence that had been earned through combat. Some white troops performed and countless others watched the shows. Amateur actor soldiers participated in small performative acts of vaudeville minstrelsy up and down the Rhine River, in hotels, beer halls, and confiscated town halls to sellout crowds. They danced, gestured, and grimaced under the gaze of their fellow American soldiers and before that of the exhausted and defeated German populace. One description in the Stars and Stripes on March 15, 1919, in a column called “Yank Doings Hereabouts,” gave blow-by-blow details of the festivities:

“See dat Niggar ball de jack”—applause—“Come back yo coon an do dat sum mo’”—more applause—“Hey, seconds on that” shouted the audience as Private Bernard Miller, blackface comedian, danced, jiggled and joked in the Fifty-eighth Infantry Show “Some of This and Some of That” at the Mayen Y.M.C.A. Tuesday evening of this week. The Jazz band which was the backbone of the whole show rendered a selection after each of the acts.26

By the first week of occupation in December 1919, the Knights of Columbus established sixty-seven clubs in the American occupation zone to help craft a social life for the American fighting man far from home. Swiftly refashioned from confiscated German hotels, clubs, and restaurants, the clubs featured vaudeville shows that showcased talented doughboys, films, musical performances, and readings. The vaudeville shows headlined blackface minstrelsy as a crucial component of their consumptive pleasures. The American military government arranged for the entertainment of American soldiers in Germany as one of an assortment of methods to discipline and control troop behavior. Administrators needed to stem the rampant reports of the doughboys’ barbaric behavior toward German men and their indecent actions when around German women. Supporting and promoting blackface minstrelsy along with other features of the variety shows provided a two-pronged solution: they imported a sense of home to the troops, and they relieved the incessant tedium of the occupation zone described in the men’s diaries, journals, periodicals, and cartoons.

The last remnants of American troops in the occupied Rhineland packed up and left for home on January 24, 1923. Four years and two months after the (p.124) armistice ended World War I, American troops refused to buffer the tension between the Allies and the Germans any longer. For the last time, the Eighth Infantry marched to the Coblenz train station and General Allen observed “genuine sorrow depicted on the faces of both allies and Germans.”27 Back in March 1922, Der Tag speculated that few would “mourn the passing of the doughboy,” only, for example, jilted fiancées or barbershop crews.28 The editor’s words, though scornful, accurately predicted the final scene at headquarters: “Headquarters at Coblenz was like a domestic-relations court, with German women clamoring to marry soldiers before the American departure. Claims for the support of illegitimate children, requests for work and charity, demands for payment of overdue bills—all suddenly mushroomed in number.”29

“The late-arriving Americans had not suffered the endless ordeal” of the Germans or “the Europeans; the New World and the Old World had, in reality, fought different wars.” Into this troubled crucible marched a quarter million doughboys with an “almost carnival spirit.”30 Irvin L. Hunt, colonel in the infantry and officer in charge of civil affairs for the American Forces in Germany, found the situation difficult from the start. In the early days nearly 300,000 American troops were billeted (or quartered) on the 893,345 Rhineland citizens in the American occupation zone; in other words, one soldier for every three civilians. Mistakes were made, Hunt admitted: “Unfortunately, the unexpected close of the war with its occupation of enemy territory, left little time for the study of the problems confronting the military government. The time between the signing of the armistice and the occupation of Germany (less than three weeks) was too short to organize completely a civil administration with formulate policies. General Headquarters was therefore confronted with the necessity of adopting such temporary expedients as would tide over the situation until some permanent organization could be devised.”31

In 1923 the Amaroc News reported that the Germans and the Americans were once again at peace. The short occupation by Americans was over, and any disruptions were now forgotten. Richard Evans made the following remarks in a review of Branowski’s Nazi Empire:

In the peace settlement that followed defeat in 1918, Germany lost all its overseas colonies, 13 per cent of its territory in Europe (including Alsace-Lorraine to France, and industrial areas in the east to the newly created state of Poland), and almost all its military equipment. Its armed forces were restricted to 100,000 men, and the government had to agree to the payment over subsequent decades of large sums of money in reparations for the economic damage caused by the war. These terms caused general disbelief and then outrage; after all, the war had ended while German troops were still on foreign soil, and military defeat had (p.125) been far from total. Moreover—a fact often overlooked by historians—British and French troops occupied the Rhineland for most of the 1920s, providing a constant reminder of Germany’s subjugation to foreign powers. In 1923, when it fell behind with reparation payments, the French sent an expeditionary force into the industrial region of the Ruhr to seize key resources, causing further resentment.

He continues to wonder if the terms were indicative of a colonization by the Allies: “Certainly, propaganda attacks on the occupation of the Ruhr focused heavily on the racial defilement symbolized by the French use of troops from its African colonies. But by the mid-1920s the violent clashes between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces that had brought machine guns and tanks onto the streets of Germany’s major cities in the immediate aftermath of the war had subsided and the economy had stabilized.”32 However, some things were not and would not be forgotten. It was not the remarkable experience of occupation that crafted this new brotherhood. The Americans would go back home. The French would face issues still unresolved on the Ruhr, and the Germans would receive personal demonstrations of a daily systematic program of humiliation and brutality that would prove useful in their future power struggles.

Further evidence of the role of World War I in demonstrating a vicious common bond of racism between the dominant Western powers can be seen in a closer glance at France’s policies governing her wartime African colonial troops and workforce immediately after the war. Even during the war the larger presence of African troops in France had sparked physical assaults and riots. Like the racial incidents of their respective American counterparts, French social conflagrations sparked by the presence of African troops on French soil also offer insights into the more general history of race, class, and racial violence. In the words of Tyler Stovall, “In important ways, they correspond to analyses of whiteness and intra-class racial conflict proffered by David Roediger and Alexander Saxton, but with some significant twists.” Stovall concludes that the French succeeded in constructing a common white identity out of people from divergent European backgrounds, as did the United States in the interwar years. However, instead of American strategies of racial exclusion that integrated disparate Europeans into a racial upper stratum of “whiteness,” in France Stovall finds a “consolidation of racial hierarchy through a denial of its existence.” In France the construction of whiteness involved an attempt at removing obvious “otherness.” Stovall also reports that “after 1918, the French government sent colonial workers home as quickly as possible, judging that France was not ready to become a multi-racial society.”33

One place where parts of this colonial exodus dwelled for ten years was on the Rhine, in French-occupied Germany. So although at home France managed (p.126) to construct an artificial silence around racial conflict in the interwar years by holding colonial immigrations at arm’s length and encouraging European immigration, in occupied Germany, France unleashed racial conflicts it sought to avoid at home. This is also compelling evidence that the French enthusiastic acceptance of African American troops upon their arrival in France was not a sign of greater racial tolerance on their part. It suggests, rather, that the French were simply more silent and perhaps were more rational partners in the shared racism among the dominant world powers than the Americans and Germans. Their willingness to at least afford African soldiers from their colonies as well as African Americans the dignity of actual combat in exchange for sacrificing their bodies in place of Frenchmen was apparently more pragmatic than principled.

When African American soldiers went to war in during World War I, they brought American racial structures and sensibilities with them, as did the women who supported them. They fought battles against two enemies—one abroad, or “over there,” proclaimed in American war aims, and one at home against the racially motivated disparate social conditions. The embracing and inverting of an internal national paradox was nominally captured in the African American “Double V” victory campaign that was publicized more broadly during World War II. However, two observations are of note in this comparison: (1) these dynamics were already in effect during and after World War I and were countered by African American soldiers and African American women who supported them or engaged in the war effort, and (2) the American military sought to both diminish the role that African American soldiers played and contain them within agreed-upon structures of domestic social dominance—by importing American racial strategies into Europe. This chapter then serves as a pre-text to the discourse of American race and foreign policy that sees World War II as a major node of transformation and suggests that the successes, as well as failures, of civil rights policies—most often celebrating the abolishing of segregation within the U.S. Army as a linchpin of alteration of U.S. racial dynamics—may be seen as the limited intervention they were in practice. The practice of race being made part of strategies of domination continues to set the stage of U.S. foreign policy in unspoken and invisible threads that embrace us and our sought-after allies. I have tried to make visible here some of these elusive tendencies and their consequences so that the Great War, the aftermath of that war, and the next to follow, may be understood as one long continuum wherein nations employed race as a weapon. This new global consciousness of race encompassed Germany, and the trajectories and strategies of American race abroad helped reconcile Germany as a civilized nation. Its visible and unseen webs and strands were woven into the social fabric of the United States and extended onto the world stage of Europe, not just into the American colonial spaces. Its threads still entangle us.

(p.127) Notes

(1.) See Tyler Stovall, “The Color Line behind the Lines: Racial Violence in France during the Great War,” American Historical Review 103, no. 3 (1998): 737–69.

(2.) I. L. Hunt, American Military Government of Occupied Germany, 1918–1920: Report of the Officer in Charge of Civil Affairs, Third Army, and American Forces in Germany (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943), 27.

(3.) W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1920). During the First World War, in his essay “The African Roots of the War” (Atlantic Monthly 115 [May 1915]), Du Bois had emerged as a leading critic of imperialism in the very same year that Lenin wrote his classic Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. By the end of 1919, 66 black men and women had been lynched, while some 250 more died in urban riots in events now known as the “Red Summer” of 1919. David Levering-Lewis wrote in his biography of Du Bois: “[He] construed the failure of American racial democracy to be integral to the evolving European world order. … The Great War was not aberration nor insanity, he wrote: ‘This is Europe: this seeming Terrible is the real soul of white culture—back of all culture—stripped and visible today.’” David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963: The Fight for Equality and the American Century (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), 14.

(4.) Étienne Balibar, “Racism and Nationalism,” in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (London: Verso, 1991), 62.

(5.) Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).

(6.) David W. Blight, “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for American Historical Memory,” History and Memory in African-American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 45.

(7.) Arthur W. Little, From Harlem to the Rhine: The Story of New York’s Colored Volunteers (New York: J. J. Little and Ives, 1936), 335.

(8.) Robert W. Mullen, Blacks in America’s Wars (New York: Anchor Foundation, 1973), 44.

(9.) Ibid., 47–48.

(10.) Frank E. Roberts, The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93rd in World War I (Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2004).

(11.) Ibid., 1.

(12.) Chad L. Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 158.

(13.) Ibid., 154.

(14.) “You’ll Find Old Dixieland in France” was introduced by Bert Williams in Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, which Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, Lillian Lorraine, and Bert Williams made an all-star show. “The first of a late-night series that Ziegfeld staged in The New Amsterdam’s intimate rooftop theater and featured a glass runway that let the chorus girls parade over the audiences’ heads—Ziegfeld had them wear tasteful ankle-length linen bloomers.” http://www.musicals101.com/ziegshows.htm.

(p.128) (15.) “You’ll Find Old Dixieland in France,” words by Grant Clarke; music by Geo. W. Meyer (New York: Leo Feist, 1918).

(16.) Maurice O. Wallace, “Framing the Black Soldier: Image, Uplift, and the Duplicity of Pictures,” Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012), 245.

(17.) Martin Andresen, “Books for the Doughboys,” April 4, 2010, Army Military History Institute (MHI) Archive, Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

(18.) Addie W. Hunton and Kathryn M. Johnson, Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces (New York: G. K. Hall, 1997).

(19.) Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(20.) Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 137.

(21.) David Levering-Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 376.

(22.) For extensive discussion of this with graphic propaganda illustrations, see Peter Martin, Zwischen Charleston und Stechschritt. Schwarze im National sozialismus [Between the Charleston and the Goosestep: Blacks under Nazism] (Hamburg: Dolling und Galitz Verlag, 2004).

(23.) Keith Nelson, Victors Divided: America and the Allies in Germany, 1918–1923 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 31.

(24.) Henry T. Allen, The Rhineland Occupation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927), 72–73.

(25.) “The Diary of Henry Jetton Tudury: Mississippi’s Most Decorated Doughboy of World War I.” Written between April 1917 and August 1919, this document was first published in the Journal of Mississippi History in 1981. Edited by Charles Sullivan, the text includes research and footnotes by Mr. Sullivan.

(26.) Stars and Stripes, March 15, 1919.

(27.) Nelson, Victors Divided, 251.

(28.) Der Tag was a German newspaper, the second daily edition of the Lokal-Anzeiger printed in Berlin, noted for its sensational stories.

(29.) Nelson, Victors Divided, 251.

(30.) David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 366.

(31.) I. L. Hunt, American Military Government, 27.

(32.) Richard J. Evans, “The Scramble for Europe,” in London Review of Books 33, no. 3 (2011): 17–19. This is a review of Shelley Baranowski, Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

(33.) Stovall, “Color Line,” 737–69.

Notes:

(1.) See Tyler Stovall, “The Color Line behind the Lines: Racial Violence in France during the Great War,” American Historical Review 103, no. 3 (1998): 737–69.

(2.) I. L. Hunt, American Military Government of Occupied Germany, 1918–1920: Report of the Officer in Charge of Civil Affairs, Third Army, and American Forces in Germany (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943), 27.

(3.) W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1920). During the First World War, in his essay “The African Roots of the War” (Atlantic Monthly 115 [May 1915]), Du Bois had emerged as a leading critic of imperialism in the very same year that Lenin wrote his classic Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. By the end of 1919, 66 black men and women had been lynched, while some 250 more died in urban riots in events now known as the “Red Summer” of 1919. David Levering-Lewis wrote in his biography of Du Bois: “[He] construed the failure of American racial democracy to be integral to the evolving European world order. … The Great War was not aberration nor insanity, he wrote: ‘This is Europe: this seeming Terrible is the real soul of white culture—back of all culture—stripped and visible today.’” David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963: The Fight for Equality and the American Century (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), 14.

(4.) Étienne Balibar, “Racism and Nationalism,” in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (London: Verso, 1991), 62.

(5.) Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).

(6.) David W. Blight, “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for American Historical Memory,” History and Memory in African-American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 45.

(7.) Arthur W. Little, From Harlem to the Rhine: The Story of New York’s Colored Volunteers (New York: J. J. Little and Ives, 1936), 335.

(8.) Robert W. Mullen, Blacks in America’s Wars (New York: Anchor Foundation, 1973), 44.

(9.) Ibid., 47–48.

(10.) Frank E. Roberts, The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93rd in World War I (Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2004).

(11.) Ibid., 1.

(12.) Chad L. Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 158.

(13.) Ibid., 154.

(14.) “You’ll Find Old Dixieland in France” was introduced by Bert Williams in Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, which Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, Lillian Lorraine, and Bert Williams made an all-star show. “The first of a late-night series that Ziegfeld staged in The New Amsterdam’s intimate rooftop theater and featured a glass runway that let the chorus girls parade over the audiences’ heads—Ziegfeld had them wear tasteful ankle-length linen bloomers.” http://www.musicals101.com/ziegshows.htm.

(p.128) (15.) “You’ll Find Old Dixieland in France,” words by Grant Clarke; music by Geo. W. Meyer (New York: Leo Feist, 1918).

(16.) Maurice O. Wallace, “Framing the Black Soldier: Image, Uplift, and the Duplicity of Pictures,” Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012), 245.

(17.) Martin Andresen, “Books for the Doughboys,” April 4, 2010, Army Military History Institute (MHI) Archive, Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

(18.) Addie W. Hunton and Kathryn M. Johnson, Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces (New York: G. K. Hall, 1997).

(19.) Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(20.) Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 137.

(21.) David Levering-Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 376.

(22.) For extensive discussion of this with graphic propaganda illustrations, see Peter Martin, Zwischen Charleston und Stechschritt. Schwarze im National sozialismus [Between the Charleston and the Goosestep: Blacks under Nazism] (Hamburg: Dolling und Galitz Verlag, 2004).

(23.) Keith Nelson, Victors Divided: America and the Allies in Germany, 1918–1923 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 31.

(24.) Henry T. Allen, The Rhineland Occupation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927), 72–73.

(25.) “The Diary of Henry Jetton Tudury: Mississippi’s Most Decorated Doughboy of World War I.” Written between April 1917 and August 1919, this document was first published in the Journal of Mississippi History in 1981. Edited by Charles Sullivan, the text includes research and footnotes by Mr. Sullivan.

(26.) Stars and Stripes, March 15, 1919.

(28.) Der Tag was a German newspaper, the second daily edition of the Lokal-Anzeiger printed in Berlin, noted for its sensational stories.

(30.) David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 366.

(32.) Richard J. Evans, “The Scramble for Europe,” in London Review of Books 33, no. 3 (2011): 17–19. This is a review of Shelley Baranowski, Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011).