First African American troops to leave St. Paul
More than 370,000 African American men were inducted into the military during World War I. The U.S. government created two all-black combat divisions, and assigned the majority of black soldiers to service units, believing that African Americans were more suited for manual labor. Many black Americans felt it was their civic duty to serve the war effort and hoped that their service would force the government to grant them equal civil rights. Despite their willingness to serve, African Americans faced continued segregation, violence, and second-class treatment. After the end of the war to "make the world safe for democracy," black Americans returned home to find that American democracy still did not include them as equal citizens.
"We must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of white Americans." General John Pershing, in a secret message to the French military, 1918.