In honor of Black History Month and the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it is only fitting to discuss the service of African Americans in the war and to highlight a few materials we have here at the archives that illustrate their contributions.
In 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which Woodrow Wilson then signed into law, thus initiating the draft. It required all young men, regardless of race, to register for service . Subsequently, more than 2.2 million black men registered over the course of four draft calls , of which nearly 370,000 were then inducted into the Army .
W.E.B. Du Bois was one of many African American leaders and activists who saw the war as a chance to advance racial progress, hoping that racial equality would follow at the war’s end when Americans saw their loyalty and service to their country. He urged black men to put the fight for civil rights on hold during the war, writing in The Crisis, “first your Country, then your Rights!” .