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Education News from the National WWI Museum and Memorial


Amplifying Black Voices in History: WWI

The tremors of nationalism and self-determination that splintered centuries-old empires in Europe, Asia and Africa reverberated across the Atlantic Ocean, shaking American society. Though some had volunteered in a multitude of ways prior, the United States’ declaration of war was met with a mixed response across the nation particularly within marginalized communities.

For African Americans, some perceived an opportunity to prove equality and dignity; others regarded war participation as another way to be oppressed. The hope for the democracy that arose for the world, self-determined and safe, remained unrealized at home. This issue explores the wartime and post-war experiences of African Americans and their legacy of activism for racial equality.

Soldiers as Activists

Soldiers as Activists: The New Negro

Dr. Chad Williams

Over 380,000 Black soldiers fought for democracy in the U.S. Army during WWI, while enduring racial discrimination and abuse. Watch this lecture on YouTube by Dr. Chad Williams, who discusses how Black veterans, as vanguards of the “New Negro” Movement, helped lay the foundation of the modern Black freedom struggle in the U.S. | Recommended Grade Levels: 11‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Video

We Return Fighting

We Return Fighting

WWI and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity

Discover how post-WWI society built the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement with this online content from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s exhibit, We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I, which examines both military and civilian lives before, during and after WWI. | Recommended Grade Levels: 6‑8, 9‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Article, Online Exhibition

In Their Own Words

An Oral History of WWI

Listen to the WWI experiences of African Americans—in their own words. These digitized interviews of men who served, including African American servicemen with the 92nd Division and the Labor Battalions, were recorded by the Museum and Memorial between 1978 and 1980; the stories are uncensored and are available on YouTube. Some include transcripts. | Recommended Grade Levels: 6‑8, 9‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Primary Source, Audio

Segregated by Race, Divided by Experience

The American Military in WWI

Though the American military reflected the diversity of the U.S. population, federal segregation policies limited the visibility and opportunity of Black servicemen and women. From assignments to increased health risks, examine the contrasting experiences of white and Black soldiers with Dr. Jennifer Keene’s article, “A Comparative Study of White and Black American Soldiers during the First World War.” | Recommended Grade Levels: 11-12, Adult Learners; Format: Article

The Bonus March

Power in Protest

The Forgotten March

In 1924, U.S. Congress agreed to pay a bonus for military service during the Great War—to be issued in 1945. Desperate to support their families during the Great Depression, veterans of all colors marched in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to release the promised funds prior to 1945. Learn more about the legacy of The Bonus March of 1932 through the National Parks Conservation Association. | Recommended Grade Levels: 9‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Article

Jim Crow Shell Shock

Jim Crow Shell Shock

African Americans and the Crucible of WWI

When historian and veteran officer Rayford Logan reflected on his service in World War I, he claimed he had fought two wars at once—his and Woodrow Wilson’s—and that he could not say which war had marked him more. Learn how many activists followed Logan in narrating the war as a political coming of age with this lecture available on YouTube by Dr. Adriane Lentz-Smith. | Recommended Grade Levels: 11‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Video

Organizing Influence

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

Dr. Nikki Brown, in her book Private Politics and Public Voices: Black Women’s Activism from World War I to the New Deal states “World War I produced an alchemy of opportunity, agenda, and motivation that reinvigorated black women's politics, so that their lives and their experience entered a new phase after 1920.”

Learn more about one such woman in the Library of Congress’ digital archive collection of the papers of Mary Church Terrell. On the forefront of civil rights throughout her life, Terrell helped found, and was the first president of, the National Association of Colored Women and was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A graduate of Oberlin College, she was one of the first African American women to obtain a degree and was an educator and prominent suffragist.

Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror

Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror

Lynching In America

The virtue of fighting under the same flag in the same uniform as white servicemen was the reason Black veterans became targets of white violence after WWI. Cases of lynching, mob-led executions used to punish alleged transgressors or to intimidate a population of people, spiked as African Americans returned home from Europe. Learn more with the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Lynching In America: Confronting The Legacy Of Racial Terror, with accompanying lesson plans and interactive maps. | Recommended Grade Levels: 11‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Curriculum, Article, Primary Sources

Tulsa Race Massacre

Black Wallstreet and the Tulsa Race Massacre

The Attack on Greenwood

Economic competition as servicemen returned home, the Great Migration (which included Oklahoma) and other social factors all escalated racial tensions across the nation after WWI. On May 31, 1921, a white mob descended on the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Okla. The affluent Black district was looted and razed and Black residents murdered. Learn more about the ongoing investigation as details continue to emerge, almost a century later. Explore this digital exhibition, then utilize curriculum content from | Recommended Grade Levels: 3‑12 (with modifications), Adult Learners; Format: Article, Curriculum, Primary Source

WWI, African American Soldiers and America’s War for Democracy

Teaching Literacy Through History

Seen by many as an opportunity to defend the nation and the ideal of democracy, patriotic African Americans volunteered to fight in the Great War in unexpected numbers. Many viewed this action as a way to prove their loyalty to the United States and earn recognition of their worth from a society that treated them as second-class citizens. This lesson plan from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History incorporates many primary sources like letters, political cartoons and newspaper editorials by W.E.B. Du Bois as it asks students to interpret the goals behind supporting the war and how they were met. | Recommended Grade Levels: 9‑12, Adult Learners; Format: Curriculum

Lafayette We Are Here

African Americans and the Promise of 1917

Before African American soldiers disembarked in France, they faced race-based violence on U.S. streets as East St. Louis, then Houston, erupted in riots. In those cases, Black intellectual-activists proved vital in galvanizing communities to their own defense. Amid the Great War’s strict policing of dissent, African Americans refused to submit to indignities inherent in the Jim Crow system and sought new livelihoods in burgeoning cities with the Great Migration. Explore how 1917 inspired civil rights battles on the homefront and on the Western Front, with this lecture by Dr. Saje Mathieu. | Recommended Grade Levels: 11-12, Adult Learners; Format: Video

The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National WWI Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events and consequences of World War I and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. 

Partners from around the world participate in the Educator Resource Database, some of whom are highlighted in this newsletter.