...Chapter V

...The Negro in the National Army


Selective Service Law the Most Complete Recognition of the Citizenship of the Negro, North and South---All the Duties and Responsibilities of Patriots Imposed Upon the Negro by the Draft Act---Tribute by the Provost Marshal General to the Colored Soldier---Assignment of Negro--- Draftees to Cantonments.


On May 18, 1917, Congress enacted what came to be known as the Selective Service law. As stated in the First Report of the Provost Marshal General, "It was unequivocal in its terms. It boldly recited the military obligations of citizenship. It vested the President with the plenary power of prescribing regulations which should strike a balance between industrial and economical need on the one hand and the military need on the other. It provided that men could be summoned for service in the place in which it would best suit the common good to call them. It was a measure of undoubted significance and power and flung a fair challenge at the feet of those doubters who did not believe that the country would respond to a draft upon the man-power of the republic."

It is of moment to state that on June 5, Registration Day, a number of representative colored citizens served as Selective Service registrars to the entire satisfaction of the Provost Marshal General. There was complaint, however, that so small a number of colored men were permitted to serve as Selective Service registrars, considering the large number of colored men who were called upon to register under the draft.

Under the first selective draft 9,586,508 men between the ages of 21 and 31 were registered; of this number 8,848,882 were whites and 737,626 were colored. Thus it appears that the total registration of citizens of African descent was nearly eight per cent of the entire (racially composite) registration. Of the number of white and colored draftees who were certified for service, official figures show that, in the first draft, 75,697 colored men, or 36.23 per cent of the total number were called to the colors and served as soldiers; while 711,213, or 24.75 per cent of the total number of white men certified were called to the colors and served as soldiers. On this particular point I quote directly from Provost Marshal General Crowder's First Report:

"Thus it appears that out of every 100 colored citizens called 36 were certified for service and 64 were rejected, exempted or discharged; whereas out of every 100 whites called 25 were certified for service and 75 were rejected, exempted, or discharged."

Further drafts during the course of the war led to increasingly large numbers of whites being called to the colors, and of course increasingly large numbers of colored selectmen as well. Nineteen months brought the total enrollment for service up to twenty-four million (24,000,000), including those who were enrolled under subsequent calls, which were put into operation as the result of Congressional legislation, which afterwards enrolled even those men who reached the age of 45 years.

Under the law, as has been stated, no difference was made as between white and colored citizens. The citizenship of the Negro as provided in the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. was fully recognized; color and race were not material, and the regulations for the purpose of classification did not exempt the Negro. A comparison of white and colored registration at the end of the war discloses the following facts: That between June 5, 1917, and September 12, 1918, there were registered 21,489,470 whites and 2,290,527 Negroes, the proportion of colored registrants to the whole being 9.63 per cent. The figures above, however, do not include some 300,000 additional registrants during September and October.

The Mobilization Division of the Provost Marshal General's Office furnished the following table (December 16, 1918), showing the total number of white and colored men called under the Selective Service Draft Regulations during the entire war as shown by States:
State White Colored
Alabama 36,172 25,674
Arizona 8,308 77
Arkansas 33,217 17,544
California 71,026 919
Colorado 24,178 371
Connecticut 33,802 941
Delaware 3,879 1,365
District of Columbia 6,576 4,000
Florida 12,769 12,904
Georgia 34,748 34,303
Idaho 13,222 95
Illinois 178,036 6,754
Indiana 70,701 4,579
Iowa 70,899 929
Kansas 43,761 2,127
Kentucky 48,977 11,320
Louisiana 29,230 28,711
Maine 16,415 50
Maryland 26,211 9,212
Massachusetts 82,765 1,200
Michigan 99,027 2,395
Minnesota 76,406 511
Mississippi 21,182 24,066
Missouri 67,920 9,219
Montana 27,965 198
Nebraska 31,520 642
Nevada 3,227 26
New Hampshire 9,174 27
New Jersey 69,974 4,863
New Mexico 9,082 51
New York 260,759 6,193
North Carolina 40,740 20,082
North Dakota 19,087 87
Ohio 139,695 7,861
Oklahoma 61,287 5,694
Oregon 18,182 68
Pennsylvania 197,336 15,392
Rhode Island 11,785 291
South Carolina 19,909 25,798
South Dakota 22,132 62
Tennessee 44,405 17,774
Texas 91,583 31,506
Utah 77 11,631
Vermont 7,294 22
Virginia 37,295 23,541
Washington 30,912 173
West Virginia 41,362 5,492
Wisconsin 75,261 224
Wyoming 8,095 95
Alaska 1,957 5
Hawaii 5,523
Porto Rico 15,787
Totals 2,442,586 367,710


Of the colored men who were classified, 51.65 per cent were put in Class I, while of the whites between the same dates who were registered 32.53 per cent were put in Class I.

The Provost Marshal General at some length offers an explanation of the high figures for colored registrants in Class I, but the essential fact stands that under the Selective Service Regulations 51.65 per cent of the colored registration was placed in Class I, while only 32.53 per cent of the whites were so classified. The Provost Marshal General in his Second Annual Report to the Secretary of War discusses "The Negro in Relation to the Draft." Officially he states:

"The part that has been played by the Negro in the great world drama upon which the curtain is now about to f all is but another proof of the complete unity of the various elements that go to make up this great Nation. Passing through the sad and rigorous experience of slavery; ushered into a sphere of civil and political activity where he was to match his endeavors with those of his former masters still embittered by defeat, gradually working his way toward the achievement of success that would enable both him and the world to justify his new life of freedom; surrounded for over half a century of his new life by the spectre of that slavedom through which he had for centuries past laboriously toiled; met continuously by the prejudice born of tradition; still the slave, to a large extent, of superstition fed by ignorance---in the light of this history, some doubt was felt and expressed, by the best friends of the Negro, when the call came for a draft upon the man-power of the Nation, whether he would possess sufficient stamina to measure up to the full duty of citizenship, and would give to the Stars and Stripes, that had guaranteed for him the same liberty now sought for all nations and all races, the response that was its due. And, on the part of many of the leaders of the Negro race, there was apprehension that the sense of fair play and fair dealing, which is so essentially an American characteristic, would not, nay could not, in a country of such diversified views, with sectional feeling still slumbering but not dead, be meted out to the members of the colored race.

"How groundless such fears, how ill considered such doubts, may be seen from the statistical record of the draft with relation to the Negro. His race furnished its quota, and uncomplainingly, yes, cheerfully. History, indeed, will be unable to record the fullness of his spirit in the war, for the reason that opportunities for enlistment were not opened to him to the same extent as to the whites. But enough can be gathered from the records to show that he was filled with the same feeling of patriotism, the same martial spirit, that fired his white fellow citizen in the cause for world freedom.

No Discrimination Shown

"As a general rule, he was fair in his dealings with draft officials; and in the majority of cases, having the assistance of his white employers, he was able to present fairly such claims for deferment or discharge as he may have had, for the consideration of the various draft boards. In consequence, there appears to have been no racial discrimination made in the determination of his claims. Indeed, the proportion of claims granted to claims filed by members of the Negro race compares favorably with the proportion of claims granted to members of the white race.

"That the men of the colored race were as ready to serve as their white neighbors is amply proved by the reports from the local boards. A Pennsylvania board. remarking upon the eagerness of its colored registrants to be inducted, illustrated this by the action of one registrant, who, upon learning that his employer had had him placed upon the Emergency fleet list, quit his job. Another registrant, who was believed by the board to be above draft age, insisted that he was not, and, in stating that lie was not married, explained that he 'wanted only one war at a time.'"

General Crowder requested a statement as to the cooperation shown the office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of War by the Provost Marshal General's office in the matter of selective service administration as it affected the Negro people, especially in reference to complaints which were from time to time received from his office. He quotes in his Report the following extract from a memorandum written to him by the Special Assistant under date of December 12, 1918:

"'Throughout my tenure here I have keenly appreciated the prompt and cordial co-operation of the Provost Marshal General's office with that particular section of the office of the Secretary of War especially referred to herein. The Provost Marshal General's office has carefully investigated and has furnished full and complete reports in each and every complaint or case referred to it for attention, involving discrimination, race prejudice, erroneous classification of draftees, etc., and has rectified these complaints whenever it was found, upon investigation, that there was just ground for the same. Especially in the matter of applying and carrying out the Selective Service Regulations, the Provost Marshal General's Office has kept a watchful eye upon certain local exemption boards which seemed disinclined to treat Negro draftees on the same basis as other Americans subject to the draft law. It is an actual fact that in a number of instances, where flagrant violations have occurred in the application of the draft law to Negro men in certain sections of the country, local exemption boards have been removed bodily and new boards have been appointed to supplant them. In several instances these boards so appointed have been ordered by the Provost Marshal General to reclassify colored men who had been unlawfully conscripted into the Army or who had been wrongfully classified; as a result of this action hundreds of colored men have bad their complaints remedied and have been properly reclassified.'"

The Special Assistant also ventured in the same memorandum which Gen. Crowder quotes, to say:

"'In a word, I believe that the Negro's participation in the war, his eagerness to serve, and his great courage and demonstrated valor across the seas, have given him a new idea of Americanism and likewise have given to the white people of our country a new idea of his citizenship, his real character and capabilities, and his 100 per cent Americanism. Incidentally, the Negro has been helped in many ways, physically and mentally and has been made into an even more satisfactory asset to the Nation.'"

A Problem for the War Department

In view of the restiveness which obtained in the South with reference to sending colored soldiers into the training camps an acute problem was presented to the War Department. Toward the latter part of August, 1917, a conference was held to discuss this question. It was attended by a number of educators who were in Washington for the purpose of being present at an Educational .Conference which had been called by Hon. P. P. Claxton, United States Commissioner of Education, an appointment having been made with the Secretary of War, at which conference the whole question was discussed at some length. Present were Mr. George Foster Peabody, New York, philanthropist and unfaltering friend of the Negro; Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard, then editor and owner of the New York Evening Post; Dr. T. H. Harris, State Superintendent of Education for Louisiana; Dr. Thomas Jesse Jones of the Phelps-Stokes Fund Foundation; and such prominent colored men as Dr. Robert R. Moton, Principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute; Dr. John Hope, President of Morehouse College; Bishop George W. Clinton of the A. M. E. Z. Church, and a number of others, including the author. This conference was followed by another which was held by Mr. Peabody, Dr. Moton, and the author, with Messrs. Walter Lippman and Felix Frankfurter, who were advising the Secretary of War at that time in matters relating to the colored people. At this latter conference it was substantially agreed that while the South might object to having colored men from Northern states sent into the various camps and cantonments of the South, it could not well refuse an acceptance of the principle of having such colored selectmen as might be called in such states trained in the cantonments of the states in which they lived.

Considerable hardship followed, however, as the result of this principle; as, for instance, while Alabama has a large colored population, colored soldiers were not sent to Camp Sheridan, Alabama, where a camp was located, but instead were sent to Iowa, because Camp Sheridan was not a cantonment but a camp at which the Ohio National Guardsmen were trained,---the colored battalion from Ohio for a while, along with the whites; but the colored selectmen from Alabama could not be trained at this camp under the program agreed upon. Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Ga., however, was called upon to accept colored registrants from Georgia because it was a cantonment rather than a camp, and the same thing was true of Camp Jackson, South Carolina, to which colored selectmen of South Carolina were assigned.

The first call for colored selectmen was under date of September 22, 1917, the men being distributed as follows:
To Camp Devens, Ayer, Mass., its own colored quota 600
To Camp Upton, Yaphank, L. I., New York, its own colored quota 5,800
To Camp Dix, Wrightstown, N. J., its own colored quota and Florida colored quota 4,500
To Camp Meade, Annapolis Junction, Md., its own colored quota and Tennessee colored quota 6,100
To Camp Lee, Petersburg, Va., its own colored quota 6,300
To Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio, its own colored quota, and Oklahoma colored quota 3,000
To Camp Jackson, Columbia, S. C., its own colored quota 5,900
To Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Ga., its own colored quota 9,000
To Camp Pike, Little Rock, Ark., its own colored quota, and Louisiana colored quota 9,600
To Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Mich., its own colored quota 600
To Camp Grant, Rockford, Ill., its own colored quota and North Carolina colored quota 7,200
To Camp Taylor, Louisville, Ky., its own colored quota 3,000
To Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Ia., its own colored quota and Alabama colored quota 6,600
To Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kas., its own colored quota and Mississippi colored quota 8,300
To Camp Travis, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, its own colored quota. .6,500
To Camp Lewis, Washington, D. C., its own colored quota 400
Total 83,400


The effect of the above distribution was in many cases to throw, in the beginning, the colored selectmen of Georgia, for instance, with some 30,000 selectmen from the North and East; the same thing was true at Camp Pike, Arkansas, to which some 30,000 .Western selectmen were first sent. Under this program it was proved that colored and white men could be trained together in Southern camps without friction. Long before the nineteen months of the war had ended, colored selectmen were being sent into practically every camp in the South, and it is a matter of congratulation to both races that no such friction and trouble followed as had been feared beforehand.

The draft revealed the fact that the Negro could stand the high physical tests of the Selective Service Regulations, a smaller proportion of his number proportionately being rejected than was true of the rest of the composite American population. Americans generally were more or less amazed to find that the Negro not only stood up physically, but that in many important respects where he was supposed to be "off color" his record stood the test.

Chapter VI. A Critical Situation in the Camps

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