JF Ptak Science Books Post 2564
"The increasing number of Negroes in the United States about 15,000,000 [sic] would create for the white race in the Republic a menace of degeneracy were it not that an impassable gulf has been made between them..."--"Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops", Crisis, 1919
During WWI U.S. troops included dozens of thousands of African Americans. Unfortunately a sizable percentage of the U.S. Army's leadership perception of these fighters was that they were not dependable, and the difficulties of having Blacks fight alongside (or near) Whites was an issue too great in many cases to bear. So in order to send these troops into battle some were reassigned to the French army. And so it came to pass that regiments would be formed of U.S. soldiers wearing French helmets, carrying French weapons, using French kit, eating French rations, fighting with French soldiers under French leadership, but wearing U.S. Army uniforms. Many of these men went on to high honors, and some--like those comprising the 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93d Division (the Harlem Hellfighters) who were attached to the French 161st Division would achieve renown for never losing a man to capture, and never giving an inch of ground.
What were we thinking?
That question is now easily answered, but not so much in 1918. In 1919, however, W.E.B. DuBois published (and made "infamous"1) a 1918 memo that was intended for French military leadership on how to deal with the American Negro, a document known as "Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops". It was signed by a Colonel (Jean L.A.) Linard, who was a French liason officer at the AEF headquarters, and was a document detailing American expectations of the French in dealing with the Black soldier, and "which carried the imprimateur of Pershing's staff"2. The document was signed by Linard and had a very whispy feel of it being of French origin, but the implications were that it was the U.S. Army communicating their interests to the French rather than Linard's own initiative in translating U.S. attitudes towards Black people. DuBois himself wrote in introducing the piece that "no one for a moment supposes he [Linard] was the author of it"3,4.
The French were being instructed on American interpretations of White-Black race relations, and to remember that extensions of social freedoms to the Black soldiers was unacceptable as "intolerable pretensions of equality", and to abide by the guidelines in the corrupting document, as the French treatment of our Black soldiers was seen as being liberal and equal and so therefore divisive and dangerous.
It is a miserable exhortation--so much so that after the war, when the French National Assembly was told of the Secret Information, the matter became a scandal.5 The contents of the document and the general awareness of the U.S. military to instill a Jim Crow existence in France was not entirely as "secret" as its name implies, as it was evidently known at least to the 369th in the spring of 1918. (Richard Slotkin wrote that "Harlem got hold of it within the month"6.) No doubt that this had a very negative impact on the soldiers who were being described in it and at the same time fighting and dying for their country.
The introduction ends informing the French that their equal treatment of Black people was an "indulgence" that caused "grievous concern" and was an "affront" to U.S. national policy. It really is nothing but all shades of bad: