Les Américains Noirs: Race and Racism in the U.S. and French Army during World War I


  • Aaron Peterka Wichita State University


World War, 1914-1918, First World War, World War I, WWI, African-American soldiers, African-American troops, racism


Huddled at the trench's lip, eyes fixed upon the desolate moonscape beyond, anxious soldiers clutched their bayonet-fixed Nebil rifles as their hearts hammered against their chests. As the whistle's Harpielike cry pierced the air, these troops charged across No Man's Land while German shells erupted all around them in a volcanic symphony. The enemy saw the men's French uniforms and dark skin, and believed they faced another company of France's feared West African shock troops. However, these soldiers were not African, nor were they French. These were African-American soldiers of the US Army's 93rd Infantry Division. Placed under the command of the French army in 1918 while still nominally a part of the AEF, these African-American troops had the unique experience of serving in two different armies from two different nations. Unlike their sister division, the 92nd, the 93rd tasted what they believed to be the fruits of equality long denied them in America. Moreover, the legacy of these African-American soldiers reveals far more than racial perspectives held by Americans, but also those of the French, especially when one considers their use of African colonials. Through the lenses of US black soldiers' wartime trials, the employment of black troops in both armies, as well as US and French racial perceptions, one beholds racism's sinister sneer upon the visages of both American and French societies.