L’Union Fait La Force: Black Soldiers in the Great War

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Though the Great War is imagined and discussed as a European conflagration, an epic showdown between white Europeans, the simple fact remains that from the first, European battlefields mirrored the multiracial makeup of the empires doing battle. The Allies depended most heavily on their black soldiers, both as combatants and as labourers, even if it meant pressing these recruits into service at the end of a gun. And when the United States finally joined the war in 1917, it too leaned extensively on African Americans, this despite resistance from many white Southerners. An added consequence of the use of black soldiers in Europe–nearly one million of them from Canada, the Caribbean, Africa and the United States–were reinvigorated campaigns for more meaningful citizenship rights for blacks on the homefront, including calls for decolonization and an end to segregation. This paper examines how Allied nations enlisted and deployed black soldiers in Europe. With so many black men from so many different places in Great Britain, Belgium and France for the first time, the Black Atlantic world converged in Europe during its greatest crisis in civilisation. Drawn into the conflict by a desperate plea to save democracy, black soldiers ended the war determined to make real democracy for themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-244
Number of pages15
JournalFirst World War Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 4 2018


  • African Americans
  • African soldiers
  • Canada
  • Colonial soldiers
  • force noire
  • Race and War


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