REVIEW: National World War I Museum – Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow [History Tour]

After becoming a member of the National World War I Museum, it seems like I’m there every few months for various events – this is a good thing because they have new exhibits up pretty often, sometimes almost quarterly. More than any other museum in the greater Kansas City area, the National World War I Museum stays “fresh” by always keeping thier collections up to date and having exciting programming all year. For the summer of 2022, the main “temporary exhibit” was Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, a look at how racism affected black Americans during World War I, and especially the strange differences between life at war and on the homefront. many black Americans were sent overseas, some finding opportunities is a comparatively “less racist” Europe much better than their lives in the US, others however came home to absolute terror at every turn.

Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow follows the end of the Civil War to the end of World War I, highlighting the central role played by African Americans in advocating for their rights. It examines the depth and breadth of opposition to Black advancement, including how Jim Crow permeated the North. Through art, artifacts, photographs and media, the exhibition highlights these transformative decades in American history and their continued relevance today.”

This was a powerful exhibit that really makes one think about how our government basically made it policy to reward patriotism and dedication to our country with hate and denigration. This exhibit goes all the way back to slavery itself, then chronicles the slippery slope from “freedom”, to slavery by another name in the Jim Crow era.

National World War I Museum; Kansas City, MO

As with any of these, The National World War I Museum has a specific event space for limited exhibits on the main floor, down the hall from the entrance. The space provided is not large, but it is always packed to the brim with valuable information.

Background:

According to their official website:

“Explore the struggle for full citizenship and racial equality that unfolded after the Civil War, and leading into WWI, in the newest exhibition at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow.

When slavery ended in 1865, a period of Reconstruction began (1865–1877), leading to achievements like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. By 1868, all persons born in the United States were citizens and equal before the law, but efforts to create an interracial democracy were contested from the start. The promise of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments fell short as state laws chipped away at their guarantees and federal court decisions paved the way for a “separate but equal” America, ushering in the age of Jim Crow. In 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. At the time, African Americans made up only 10 percent of the population, but a total of 13 percent of the segregated United States armed services.

Though the American military reflected the diversity of its population, the majority of African American soldiers – nearly 80 percent – were organized into supply, construction or other non-combatant units. However, two predominately African American combat divisions were formed that proved the battlefront capabilities of African American troops. Sgt. Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, both members of the 93rd Division, 369th Infantry Regiment – later known as the Harlem Hellfighters – were the first American recipients of the French Croix de Guerre for bravery. They were not awarded medals from the United States until after their respective deaths.”

For the webpage for this exhibit, Click HERE

This exhibit is now closed. Sorry for taking so long to do a write-up!

Reading(s):

I was unable to obtain a specific book on the relationship between military service and Jim Crow Laws at the museum, but there is a sizable chapter in Trench Dogs by Ian Densford that discusses the topic as well as some contentment in the appendix that goes over it. Trench Dogs is a textless graphic novel, but does a great job of conveying the dichotomy of men being allowed to serve for their country, then coming home to be treated far worse than during the war. I will attempt to find a more dedicated book at another time, and post a review as always.

For my review of Trench Dogs, Click HERE

The Trip:

I took my son with me for this adventure, which in hindsight was probably not a great idea. He’s a slight bit too young to comprehend what racism is, and the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that kids, like a number of his friends, would have not been allowed to play with him for an absolutely stupid reason. I tried my best to explain some of the issues presented in the exhibit in a way a small child could grasp. Something like this would be a GREAT topic for older kids to explore, as many get a rather black and white explanation of the Jim Crow era.

Conclusion:

This was a powerful and very important exhibit, largely due to the fact that many people seem to see the end of slavery or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the end of racism in America, with some idiotic journalists even calling this “a post racism world”. Seeing what happened not too long ago with the George Floyd murder and the subsequent racial unrest that rightfully scared the crap out of many politicians, this is not over. Many Americans, especially white Americanas, should definitely expose themselves to stuff like this, if anything to understand the real world and build common ground across the racial divide. This was an awesome exhibit.

See More:

National World War I museum

National World War I museum – Snapshots

War Remains

National World War I Museum – Empires At war

All History Content

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