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African American Experience in the World Wars: Biography

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James Reese Europe

Portrait of Lieutenant James Europe (1919). Image from the cover of the sheet music for "Good Night Angeline" on Wikipedia.

As a machine-gun company commander, James Reese Europe was the first black American officer in World War I to lead troops into combat. He was also a popular music composer and conductor. He organized a regimental brass band for the Harlem Hellfighters that became one of the most celebrated musical organizations of the war.

 

See also under World War 1--Music in this guide.

Henry Johnson

portrait of an African American soldier wearing a medal in world war 2

William Henry Johnson distinguished himself as one of the first American soldiers to receive the Croix de Guerre with palm for valor from the French government for his brave actions against the Germans in World War 1.

Emmett J. Scott

photo of an African American man in a bowler hat holding some papers standing on a dock with a ship in the background

Emmett Scott at a boat dock in New York (1909). Photo from the Library of Congress.

During World War 1, Emmett Scott served as Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of War in charge of Negro affairs. Scott served as the liaison between Black soldiers and the War Department. His book Scott's Official History of the American Negro in World War (1919) documents the African American experience both at home and abroad. He also wrote Negro Migration during the War (1920). Before the war, he worked as secretary for Booker T. Washington and for the Tuskegee Institute.

More African American Biographical Resources

Dorie Miller

Uu.S. navy recruiting poster featuring African American sailor Dore Miller

U.S. Navy recruiting poster (1943) featuring Dorie Miller and his Navy Cross. Office of War Information (OWI Poster Number 68) Artist: David Stone Martin. Image from Wikipedia; original source is the National Portrait Gallery.

Boxer and Navy cook Dorie Miller became one of the most heroic African American sailors of the Pacific campaign in World War 2.

Waverly B. Woodson Jr.

official u.s. army portrait of Waverly Woodson 

Official US Army portrait of Waverly Woodson. Photo from Wikipedia

Corporal Waverly Woodson treated at least 200 injured men on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion, despite being injured, himself.

Gertrude Ivory Margaritte Bertram

closu-up on an African American nurse from a group portrait during World War 2 in Liberia 

Gertrude Ivory Bertram from a group portrait of African American nurses in Liberia during World War 2. Original photo from the U.S. National Archives.

Gertrude Bertram was one of only 600 African American nurses accepted for service into the Army Nurse Corps. These nurses were largely restricted to serving only in hospitals and aid stations occupied by African American military men. Learn more about the nurses who served in Liberia.

More WW2 Biography

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