Mule Rearing The pilots African American Officers Riveters gas masks pilots in dress uniforms doughboys with mules African American Soldiers 1

Yale exhibit explores struggle over American identity during WWI 

By Mike Cummings
via the yale.edu web site

The black-and-white photograph shows four African American soldiers posed beside a solitary grave in the French countryside at the close of World War I.

Roosevelt graveSoldiers pose at the grave of Quentin Roosevelt — the youngest of Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons to serve in France. An aviator, Roosevelt was killed in aerial combat at age 20. His famous name made his grave a pilgrimage site for American servicemen.An ornamental enclosure surrounds the grave, which is marked by a large decorative cross. It is the burial site of Quentin Roosevelt, a fighter pilot and the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the fiercest advocates for American involvement in the war. The Germans had buried the younger Roosevelt where his plane had fallen on July 14, 1918. The grave had become a pilgrimage site for American soldiers, who were drawn there by the dead man’s famous name.

The image is featured in “An American and Nothing Else: The Great War and the Battle for National Belonging,” an exhibition that opened on Feb. 12 in the Memorabilia Room at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. Curated by Anna Duensing, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies, the show examines the America’s involvement in World War I from the perspective of the country’s most marginalized residents, particularly African Americans and immigrant communities.

The exhibit draws on materials — including photographs, posters, pamphlets, and propaganda pieces — housed at Yale University Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Department and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Beinecke’s Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, which depicts African American life from the 1850s to the 1940s, was a particularly important resource, Duensing said.

The patriotic fervor surrounding the nation’s war mobilization occurred against a backdrop of protest, racial violence, and nativism on the home front. About one-third of Americans at the time were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Jim Crow controlled the South and the Great Migration of southern blacks to northern cities was underway. It was a period of upheaval and hypocrisy in which the United States proclaimed itself a beacon of freedom and democracy while subjecting many of its own people to injustice and oppression, Duensing said. 

Read the entire article on the yale.edu web site.

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