The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93d in World War I

Article excerpt

The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93d in World War I by Frank E. Roberts. Naval Institute Press (http://www.usni.org/ press/press.html), USNI Operations Center, 2062 Generals Highway, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-6780, 2004, 288 pages, $29.95 (hardcover).

More than three decades ago, historians began to weave the little-known exploits of African-Americans into the fabric of American history. Frank E. Roberts's The American Foreign Legion continues that trend by contributing another chapter to American military historiography.

By 2004 the public had grown accustomed to reading about black soldiers in nearly every area of American military history. Roberts cogently reminds us that was not always the case. By taking the reader back to the second decade of the twentieth century, he places on center stage the story of the 93d Division, thus showing a time and place when all servicemen were not treated equally.

The story line begins when the US Army refuses to use black soldiers, assigning them instead to the French army. What no doubt was designed to demean and disgrace had the unintended effect of giving these black Americans the opportunity to excel on the battlefield. More pointedly, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker "issued specific orders to Gen. John J. Pershing . . . that all American units would serve under the direct command" of Allied Expeditionary Forces Headquarters (p. l).Pershing relied on an obscure clause in the policy statement to release to the French army the four regiments of American infantry (the 369th, 370th, 371st, and 372d) that neither he nor his commanders wanted. Roberts's story tells how units of the 93d fought to repel potent German offensives on the one hand and to combat the rigidity of American military segregation on the other.

Once placed under French command, blacks proved their worth as fighters and true defenders of justice and equality. Using 11 maps and detailed accounts of infantry action in such operations as the Battles of Champagne-Marne and the MeuseArgonne, as well as the Oise-Aisne Offensive, Roberts relives Allied assaults in vivid detail, recounting movements on almost an hourly basis. …