Addie Hunton goes to war

Title

Addie Hunton goes to war

Description

Addie Hunton was no naïf, but the shameless racism she saw in her war service shocked her. She spent 1918-19 as one of a handful of African American women deployed by the YMCA to serve 150,000 Black troops in France. WWI thread.

Addie Hunton and Kathryn Johnson saw the hypocrisy of the American military up close, and documented it in their book, Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces. @internetarchive makes it easy to read the book and see the photos.
The military brass were as concerned with maintaining segregation as they were with winning the war. Black soldiers were relegated to the most menial units - working supply lines instead of fighting, treated as servants to white soldiers, assumed illiterate when their units contained college graduates.

The hypocrisy began stateside, of course. West Point & Annapolis were only for white men, so most Black units were commanded by whites. “Southern Congressmen were particularly alarmed over any prospects of colored men learning to use guns,” the authors noted drolly.

Before an all-Black unit shipped out to France, they were chastised by their commander for objecting to segregation at their training camp in Kansas. When a sergeant tried to go see a show, the unit got this order:

“He is entirely within his legal rights in the matter, and the theatre manager is legally wrong. Nevertheless the sergeant is guilty of the greater wrong in doing anything, no matter how legally correct, that will provoke race animosity.

All concerned are again enjoined to place the general interest of the Division above personal pride and gratification. Avoid every situation that can give rise to racial ill-will. Attend quietly and faithfully to your duties, and don’t go where your presence is not desired.”

Addie & Kathryn witnessed the order’s naturally demoralizing effect on the troops, “who were being sent to another country to fight for the preservation of the very privileges of which they at that very moment were being denied.”

Once abroad, Black soldiers were humiliated at every turn. Coming off of guard duty and finding that the canteen wouldn’t serve them, refused entry to a “hut” that posts letters and distributes newspapers, relegated to steerage on the ship home, and on and on.

The men’s valorous service in the face of constant degradation inspired and enraged Addie & Kathryn. They saw men work honorably, yet: “Always there was the knowledge that for them, loyalty, devotion, and energy led to no higher rank, no possibility of promotion.”

The persistence of American racism contrasted sharply with French hospitality. Addie & Kathryn lived nine months of the war in the home of a French family, where they were treated with “respect, almost reverence.” When one of them was ill, their host “nursed her as if she had been her own child.”

French warmth toward African Americans offended the US military, which tried to police it with orders like: “Enlisted men of this organization will not talk to or be in company with any white women, regardless of whether the women solicit their company or not.” 😼

The hypocrisy of the whole endeavor was not lost on African Americans. “There was being developed in France a racial consciousness and racial strength that could not have been gained in a half-century of normal living in America,” wrote Addie Hunton.

She wasn’t only talking about the soldiers.

Addie Hunton’s own politics were affected by what she saw in the war. The book she co-wrote burns with anger, and this lifelong activist became more impatient for change in the decades after she returned. Stay tuned. #BlackSuffragists

Creator

Daily Suffragist

Date

02/09/2020

Files

Addie Hunton from book.jpg
Addie part 2 screenshot.png

Citation

Daily Suffragist, “Addie Hunton goes to war,” Daily Suffragist, accessed March 9, 2021, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/501.

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