This is a contributing entry for Remembering WWI in Norfolk and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

Beneath the waving flags and patriotic rhetoric, there lies a nuanced experience of participation of African Americans in the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War. Herbert Ulysses White, a Norfolk native who lived at this address, attended Norfolk High School before going on to Hampton University. After the War, he finished his degree and went on to become a lawyer.


Herbert Ulysses White was born in Norfolk, Virginia on October 6th, 1896 to N.S. White and Lena Moore. He attended Norfolk High School on 15th Street, soon to be known as Maury High School on the renamed Shirley Avenue. After graduation, he attended Hampton University and was a member of the Tau Delta Sigma's Alpha Chapter. While still a student, White enlisted in army infantry and began his training at Camp Meade, Maryland on October 4th, 1918 and serving there until June 28th, 1919. Though originally attached to 40 Co. 154th Depot Brigade, due to his level of education and ability he was promoted from Private to Corporal on November 9th and transferred to Co. B 417th Reserve Quartermaster Corp on November 26th, 1918. There he assisted in administrative duties for the duration of his service, being promoted from Corporal to Sergeant on December 1st, 1919. After being released from service, White completed his degree and relocated to the economic boomtown that was Detroit where he lived and worked as a lawyer.
The memory of World War I has begun to fade from our collective consciousness. The events and emotions of that conflict have been over shadowed by the wars that have happened since. During his military service, Herbert White faced complex emotions about race and democracy in the United States. When asked in 1920 what was his attitude towards his camp and overall military experience, he wrote "I didn't feel justified in going into the service to fight for so-called democracy which I could not myself enjoy as an American citizen."This sentiment was shared by many African Americans returning from what was touted as a war for democracy, a reality far from equal and democratic.
Racism and increasing white nativism during and in the immediate aftermath of the First World War led to widespread violence and rioting in cities across the United States, including Norfolk, Virginia on July 21st, 1919. The experiences of African American soldiers in Europe and on the home front influenced the growing movement of resistance to Jim Crow on the part of the African American community. When asked about the effects of his experiences on his mental state, Herbert White responded that "the race prejudice displayed in camp breeded contempt in my heart." The First World War became an integral, yet unsung, influence on the future development of the Civil Rights Movement through the lives of men like Herbert Ulysses White.

Voogd, Jan. 90th Anniversary of the Red Summer Riot in Norfolk, Virginia. Historical Amnesia, Without Remedy, Becomes Cultural Slippage. July 21, 2009. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://janvoogd.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/90th-anniversary-of-the-red-summer-riot-in-norfolk-virginia/. 
White, Herbert Ulysses. Virginia History War Commission, Norfolk, Virginia. Sargent Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library, Norfolk, Virginia.