WWI – W.E.B. DuBois

As United States officially declared war in April of 1917, America needed to recruit hundreds of thousands of able bodied men to serve in the military.  This also included the support of black civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, for black Americans to serve in combat alongside white Americans.  According to Gail Buckley, “by July 5, 1917, more than 700,000 blacks were registered…of the 367,000 black draftees who ultimately served, 89% were assigned to labor, supply, and service units…11% of blacks would see combat.”  The willingness and patriotic enlistment of the blacks to serve in the United States military is undoubtedly a commendable and respected act of heroism.  But despite the heightened racial and color barriers that the blacks continued to face in America, W.E.B. Du Bois called for blacks to join the whites in the fight for democracy.  Although many of his colleagues in the black community criticized Du Bois for his call of support with the racially charged white Americans, I give praise to Du Bois for his stance to unity.  As Du Bois states, “that which the German power represents today spells death to the aspirations of Negroes and all darker races for equality, freedom and democracy.”  His understanding of the bigger cause for the black communities in the midst of a racially divided America is noble and enlightening.   Du Bois was clearly not blind to the injustice and inhumane treatment of blacks, but he understood that history provides very limited opportunity to seize the moment in order to make changes for the better.  The forward-looking vision of Du Bois to champion the blacks to join the military ranks with the whites in World War I, should be a reminder of the unrelenting sacrifice for racial equality the blacks would endure, for another half century after the war.


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