In doing the research for the posts this past week on the USS New York and the fleet review of December 1918 I came across sobering articles about a riot involving African-American troops from the Bush Terminal in late 1918. Really it was just one in a number of racial and other disturbances throughout the city, indeed throughout the country, during and immediately after the war. This one involved some men denied service at a saloon on DeKalb Avenue and quickly escalated into a scene with 2000 lookers-on and 150 military and civilian police. Shots were fired but no one was killed or injured. Incidents like these are part of why the Great War plays a smaller role in the imaginations of most Americans than other of our conflicts. Expectations so high in America and around the world in those heady days after the Armistice soon became mired in complexity and dashed hopes.
Troops began coming home in that final week of 1918, a process that would continue in February and March of 1919. The end of our own year right now has me reflective on what happened in this heady months just after the Armistice. Temperance and suffragism were two goals of the Progressive Movement that came to fruition after the fighting stopped. What eventually came to be called the New Negro Movement was also coalescing. Scholars like W.E.B. DuBois believed that African-American soldiers returning from the Great War would comprise a vanguard that would end Jim Crow. That came partially true in cultural movements such as the Harlem Renaissance. In the meantime there were incidents like the bloody Red Summer of 1919. The relatively minor incident at a bar in Brooklyn was just a precursor. These are all topics to be explored as the Great War Centennial continues.
(image/Library of Congress)