The They Came To Fight project has been honored with the 2010 NAACP Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award.Any historical representation of the First World War, must account for the participation of African Americans and their direct contribution to the victory that the “associated forces” achieved by the war’s end. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. There are relatively few museums or permanent exhibitions dedicated to the memories of those African American men and women who served and fought and died in defense of democracy, while simultaneously seeking to satisfy their desires for full-citizenship within the imagined borders of the United States.
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Indeed, by the beginning of the twentieth century, African Americans had been forced to live under the harsh conditions of segregation after the advances made during Reconstruction were annulled by those committed to continuing the subjugation of the “race” by turning back opportunities for economic, educational, and social development. Yet, African Americans remained steadfast and continued to strive to define themselves against the debasing images projected to signify their position in American society as inferior second-class citizens. From Plessy vs. Ferguson to the founding of the Niagara movement, and the first Great Migration, African Americans challenged notions related to their so-called inferiority by choosing to pursue that which had traditionally eluded them: true freedom.
This exhibition serves as an account of the intersecting historical, social, political and economic contexts that African Americans found themselves in leading up to World War I. As soldiers, administrators, officers and volunteers in the defense of the United States and its claims to democracy, African Americans served with pride. What is more, this exhibition accounts for the contribution that black Kansas Citians made to the outcome of the Great World War. Indeed, these men and women served with honor and purpose to achieve the designated outcomes that their country sought to secure, and in doing so claimed the citizenship of an entire race.
Pellom McDaniels III, Ph.D.
Department of History/American Studies Program
The University of Missouri - Kansas City
Department of History
The University of Missouri-Kansas City
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