Book review: We Return Fighting

Shaping African American identity.

We Return FightingWe Return Fighting: World War I and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity is a physically beautiful book. It was published by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in 2019. It was a century after black soldiers returned from the war overseas only to fight a different type of battle at home.

One of the ongoing themes in the tome is the fact that black soldiers served the United States, in part, to try to prove yet again their worthiness as citizens. As in most previous conflicts, black soldiers were assigned to segregated units. They were often relegated to support duties rather than direct combat, at least at first. Given the opportunity, though, they often shone as warriors, even underequipped.

Specifically, in WWI, blacks in the military received the respect they deserved from French allies but not their US comrades. This disconnect incentivized them to return to the states and continue the fight for their rights. Black soldiers and black citizens on the home worked to lay the framework for advances in the civil rights movement.

There are scads of photos and illustrations of significant people and artifacts. In other words, it is the history of the black soldier from the Civil War forward. We read also about the horrific Red Summer of 1919 when black veterans were particularly targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist entities. The war and its aftermath shaped African American identity.

Over There

An interesting paradox for me: the book discussed World War I broadly far more than I expected or was especially interested in. Yet I learned a great deal about the great world war. Notably, it was the event that first made the United States a world power.

The book appears to be an outgrowth of the We Return Fighting exhibit at the NMAAH that closed on September 6, 2020. But you can still see elements of that show. I am a founding contributor to this museum, and I hope to visit it someday. My daughter, BTW, has been there twice.

Incidentally, there was a 2002 book called We Return Fighting: The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age by Mark Robert Schneider. I have not seen it.

 

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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