Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Old Dixieland in France

From the chapter "Old Dixieland in France" in The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin, bottom of page 263.

"African American soldiers were undertrained and underequipped; the first batch of black stevedores sent to France was actually issued blue uniforms left over from the Civil War.  They were assigned worked deemed 'unfit' for white soldiers, and ordered into factories as strikebreakers. They were warned, in the most menacing of terms, to stay far away from French women, not to enter French homes or eat in French cafes. (French citizens, for their part, were asked by American authorities to honor American 'cultural sensitivities' by adopting a policy of racial discrimination for the duration of the war.) They were, as a class, labeled -- in official reports -- as lazy, or simpleminded, or devious, or all three.  Contemporary accounts report that they were subjected to an extraordinary amount of verbal and even physical abuse in camp, just in the course of an ordinary day."

This is all before he gets to the section about "coon songs", which are pretty vile, and period assumptions about mental inferiority.

"Yes, a man with a rifle has power, authority, dignity; but a man who uses that rifle to fight - for you - also has pride.  You owe him your gratitude.  And he knows it.  And when this man comes back home again after putting his life at risk to defend your freedom, perhaps he'll be satisfied to just return to the way things were before.  But perhaps not."

No comments: