Building 2101: Fort Leonard Wood's Black Officers' Club
As the United States prepared to enter World War II, the Army had a need to expand. Fort Leonard Wood was built to meet this need. By mid-1941 approximately 1,600 wooden buildings had been built to house, train, and mobilize over 300,000 troops. Among these structures was the Black Officers' Club: Building 2101, located on the corner of East Second Street and Replacement Avenue. Over time, the building has undergone multiple physical renovations; however, it remains to mark the history of the World War II era segregated Army experience.
Backstory and Context
The primary focus of Fort Leonard Wood, an Army post in the middle the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, has always been training incoming soldiers. The Fort Leonard Wood of today is much different the one that was built in 1941. Aside from structural updates, the post is no longer racially segregated like it once was. Building 2101’s location on the corner of East Second Street and Replacement Avenue was part of the post’s segregated area.
Building 2101 was erected in 1941. Originally, the building was the Personnel Adjutant's Office for the Engineer Replacement Training Center, 7th Training Group (an African American group). However, it was annexed into the black officer’s club in 1943 because black officers were being turned away from the post’s other service clubs. An addition was built to accommodate the social functions that the building would host. On the stonework of the addition is a mural by Staff Sergeant Samuel A. Countee.
Countee was an established African American artist from Marshall, Texas who had had exhibitions at the Boston Museum School, Smith College, Howard University, the Institute of Modern Art and at Harvard University and was a recipient of the Harmon Foundations scholarship in numerous other awards. In 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Assigned to the 436th Engineer Company, he ended up at Fort Leonard Wood. His military service sent him to Iran with the Persian Gulf Command in a mission to provide supplies to Russia in the Persian Corridor. At the end of the war, he returned to Fort Leonard Wood.
There, he painted his four by ten and a half feet mural on three plywood strips with oil paint. The painting depicts an African American couple having a picnic- the man is playing the banjo while his gal leans on his shoulder and listens. The mural is the end of Building 2101, the former Black Officer’s Club stonework laid by German POW’s, stands as a symbol of the black military experience before full integration. Countee's mural, restored in 1998, is a reminder of a time when America was fighting two racially intolerant governments, yet had a segment of their own population being discriminated against.