by Adam P. Wilson
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. Pp. viii, 228.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 078649512X
Fighting for the Right to Serve
Ostensibly Prof. Wilson (Tennessee at Martin) has written a book about the 17th Provisional Training Regiment, near Des Moines, Iowa, which prepared more than a thousand young black men for commissions in the U.S. Army during the Great War, with a look at their experiences on active duty and under fire. But Wilson touches on many other aspects of military history, the role of many of these men in the Civil Rights movement, and the influence their experience had on the eventual desegregation of the armed forces.
Wilson gives us some background on the role of black Americans in earlier wars, the influence of Jim Crowism on American military policy on eve of the Great War, and the struggle to secure the right serve as officers for African-American, which was backed by robust popular support – even demand – in the black community. He then gives us an account of their experiences in training and in the Army, which was largely unhappy over their presence, and subjected African-American officers to bigotry, harassment, and segregation, while frequently denying them opportunity for advancement and rarely awarding excellent performance.
Wilson then follows many of these pioneering black officers as they moved into leadership positions in the African-American community postwar, and later played an role in the Civil Rights movement. This is a lot of ground to cover. Wilson’s book should be seen less as a definitive treatment, and more as the opening of what might be called “new fronts” not only in the history of African-Americans and the armed forces, but also in the Civil Rights movement.