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National Archives and Records Administration [165-WW-127(12)]

Fighting a War

The war not only offered industrial jobs in the North to African Americans, but it was also an opportunity for black men to serve in the military. Many found the prospect appealing. As one soldier said, "When we have proved ourselves men, worthy to work and fight and die for our country, a grateful nation may gladly give us the recognition of real men, and the rights and privileges of true and loyal citizens of these United States." In 1917, there were about 10, 000 black soldiers in the U.S, Army. Five thousand more served in the Navy, mostly as waiters, kitchen helpers and stokers. While over 380,000 African-American men served over the course of the war, only 42,000 saw combat. One black lieutenant stressed, "Many of the [white] field officers seemed far more concerned with reminding their Negro subordinates that they were Negroes than they were in having an effective unit that would perform well in combat."

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