Torchbearers of Democracy
African-American Soldiers in the World War I Era
University of North Carolina Press 2010
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network May 13, 2011 Bob Wintermute
One of the great “grey” areas of World War I historiography concerns the African-American experience. Even as the war was ending, white historians, participants, and politicians strove to limit the record of the African-American soldiers’ participation, while also casting the standard narrative of the war as a white American crusade against German militarism. The rich experience of the African-American community–from the quest for legitimacy and equality by educated black social and political leaders, to the Great Migration of thousands of families out of the Deep South in search of wartime work and opportunity; from the battles waged by black soldiers against both Germans and Jim Crow abroad and at home, to the violent white backlash against entire black communities–has far too long been hidden away from public view. While there have been some efforts since the war ended to restore this history to its rightful place, until recently too many of these accounts have focused on specific units, individuals, or events, often by well-meaning amateurs, driven by their own zeal to correct injustices and set the record straight as any desire to assist in crafting a solid historical narrative.
Chad Williams‘ new book Torchbearers of Democracy: African-American Soldiers in the World War I Era (UNC Press, 2010) is part of the effort by a new generation of scholars to recount the history of the African-American wartime experience. Grounded in extensive archival research, Williams offers a painstakingly constructed narrative, balanced with insightful analyses on how World War I and the immediate post-war period, for all of their disappointments and challenges, should be considered as the founding point of the modern Civil Rights movement. An assistant professor at Hamilton College, Chad Williams has received the 2011 Society of Military History Distinguished Book Award for Torchbearers of Democracy.