Photographs of the 369th Infantry and African Americans during World War I
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 7 -The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
- Standard 2C -Demonstrate understanding of the impact at home and abroad of the United States involvement in World War I.
This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard II.B.4. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding diversity in American life.
- Standard V.A.1. -Explain the meaning of citizenship in the United States.
- Standard V.C.2. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding civic responsibilities of citizens in American constitutional democracy.
Share this exercise with your history, government, English, and music colleagues.
Analyzing the Document
- Before looking at the documents featured in this lesson, brainstorm with
students how we get the news today. What changes in news gathering and dissemination
have occurred even in the last few years? What images of war do we see, how quickly
do we see them, and how do they affect us? Now ask students to try to reconstruct
how people living through World War I learned about events. What technologies
existed at the time, and who controlled them? How important were photographs
to the American public during World War I relative to today?
Copy and distribute the seven photographs that are featured documents. (For more photographs of the 369th Infantry, in the online catalog type "369th regiment or African Americans in World War I".
Ask students the following questions: Why do you think the photographs of the 369th Infantry were taken? What strikes you as unusual or significant about them? Who took these photographs and for what purposes? The photographic record of World War I was compiled by three categories of photographers: official, press, and amateur. How would photographs taken in each of these categories have differed? Why? Do you have family photographs of war veterans? Would they be of historical significance? What would make them so?
Now divide the class into 7 groups and give each group one visual document to analyze using the Photograph Analysis Worksheet. In a class discussion, share and compare what students have learned.
- Ask students to imagine they are a person in one of the photos or someone at the scene depicted. Direct students to write a letter or a journal entry in which they describe why they are at this scene; what they hear, smell, and see; what emotions they are feeling and why; what events have led up to his or her being part of this scene. Ask student volunteers to read their letters to the class.
Listen to Music and Discuss
- James Reese Europe and the regimental band of the 369th were famous, not only in America but throughout France where they introduced audiences to "le jazz." Play some examples of early jazz music for the class to hear. Now play an example of popular music that predated jazz, such as a waltz or polka. Ask: What are the distinctive musical elements in jazz? What words would the Harlem Hellfighters have wanted to sing about their experiences? What are some current songs that express pride in bravery, or anger at racism?
Write News Articles
- Ask students to write a news article answering the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? to accompany one of the photographs depicting African Americans in World War I. Direct students to use one of the photos featured in this lesson, or one of more than 60 additional photographs available in the online catalog Database (conducting a search with "533461" as the keyword.) To extend this activity, place students in groups and publish their newspapers. Groups could be assigned according to similar themes (e.g., training camps in the United States, departure for Europe, roll call on the front, return home).
Research and Application
- For an in-depth research project, ask students to search the online catalog using "533461" as a keyword to put together an oral report and slide show or PowerPoint presentation using as "slides" digital images on the computer screen. Students can take on a variety of roles in their presentations such as a) a veteran telling his story, b) a reporter exposing the segregationist policies of the Army, c) a civil rights activist presenting a speech to Congress or the Supreme Court arguing that the armed forces should be integrated, and d) a historian analyzing the African American contribution to World War I.
Research and Discuss
- Lead a class discussion about other groups in U.S. history that have been
excluded from or discriminated against in the armed services (Consider women,
naturalized citizens from "enemy" countries, gays, the disabled). What
do students believe should be the basis for inclusion and equal treatment in
the armed services? Why?
Assign students to research how, when, and why the U.S. armed forces finally integrated. Ask: Who were the leaders and organizations growing out of the World War I-era who carried on the crusade for equal opportunity? What legislation, executive orders, constitutional amendments, and Supreme Court decisions played a role? What documents in the online catalog can students find to help answer this question? Direct students to the Truman Presidential Library's Project Whistlestop.
Research and Analyze
- Ask students to hypothesize how life on the home front might have differed for African Americans before and after World War I. Areas for consideration include employment, leadership, integration, and others. Direct students to library and Internet resources to research into this topic. Searching the ARC database will reveal paintings by Jacob Lawrence or photographs of the urban North, other sources will present poems and stories by writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Instruct students to write a paragraph explaining how their research supported or refuted their hypotheses.
The photographs included in this project are from Record Group 165, Records of the War Department. They are available online through the National Archives Catalog National Archives Identifiers:
You can perform a keyword, digitized image and location search in the National Archives Catalog. The online catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.
The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the online catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.
Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the online catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the online catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the online catalog will grow continually.
This article was written by Joan Brodsky Schur, a teacher at Village Community School in New York, NY.