Cover of The Crisis, Special Soldiers Number
Special Soldiers Number of The Crisis, journal of the National Association of Colored People published in New York, June 1918. The journal was circulated widely, not only in the US, but also among black troops serving in Europe.
When the United States entered the war in April 1917, African American organisations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, promoted black enlistment. The war was regarded as an opportunity to assert equal rights for African Americans, often through conventional ideals of masculine sacrifice and citizenship.
This ‘Special Soldiers Number’ of The Crisis exemplifies the stance taken by African American leaders during the war. As well as highlighting the heroic exploits of African Americans in the war, the wider role of African soldiers in the Allied war effort was also reported. In The Black Man in the Revolution of 1914-1918, W. E. B. DuBois portrays Senegalese troops as the saviours of France, reiterating the links between military service, citizenship, and French revolutionary values. A wider Pan-African military heritage was also recalled, particularly through allusions to the Haitian revolution (1791-1804). The 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland was similarly an important influence with the shedding of blood being regarded as a purifying precondition for black liberty and nationhood.
African American publications had a wider Pan-African appeal during the war. From June 1918, the Anglo-US Military Service Convention enabled the British Army to enlist British subjects in the United States. This included West Indians who were recruited to several British regiments. It is likely that these men would have read The Crisis, particularly in black urban areas such as Harlem. Copies were also circulated to the Coloured Soldiers and Sailors Club in London. In his autobiography, ' (1937), Claude McKay relates how he distributed copies of The Crisis, along with Marcus Garvey’s Negro World, to West Indian soldiers at a demobilisation camp in Winchester, England during 1919. The West Indians challenged the segregationist attitudes of white American troops also housed at the camp.