African American Dissent in World War I
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.
Backstory and Context
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.
White, Herbert Ulysses. Virginia History War Commission, Norfolk, Virginia. Sargent Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library, Norfolk, Virginia.