Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865-1917

By Bruce A. Glasrud | Go to book overview

Black Kansans and
the Spanish-American War

Willard B. Gatewood, Jr.

The role of black Americans in the imperialistic ventures of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century dramatized the irony and incongruities bred by their anomalous position in American society. During the Spanish-American War African Americans were called upon to render military service outside the United States, and as soldiers in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, they became representatives abroad among “colored peoples” for a nation which made color a badge of inferiority. Whatever misgivings black Americans may have entertained regarding a crusade in behalf of “our little brown brothers” in the islands, they were careful to avoid anything that would impugn the patriotism of their race or play into the hands of those bent upon nullifying the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. In the hope of enhancing their status as American citizens, blacks took up the “White Man’s Burden” and actively participated in the quest for empire. Failure to realize such hopes only deepened their sense of alienation and despair. The experience of blacks in Kansas provides in microcosm the larger story of the expectations and frustrations engendered by the imperialistic enterprises among black Americans in general. Nowhere else was the ambivalence that characterized black opinion more evident.

By 1898 an air of uncertainty hung over the black community in Kansas. Concentrated largely in towns in the eastern section of the state, the black population had increased rapidly as a result of the so-called Exodus of 1879. Although Kansas may well have not been the “New Canaan” many of the African Americans who migrated from the South expected to find, it did provide respite from the more odious aspects of their previous existence. The

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