African-American Soldiers and Filipinos: Racial Imperialism, Jim Crow and Social Relations

By Ngozi-Brown, Scot | The Journal of Negro History, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

African-American Soldiers and Filipinos: Racial Imperialism, Jim Crow and Social Relations


Ngozi-Brown, Scot, The Journal of Negro History


In February 1899, the Spanish Government ratified a peace treaty which "entrusted" the Philippines to the United States. Despite the success in the war with Spain, the United States military forces could not avoid conflict with another opponent in the Philippines. Emilio Aguinaldo had led a well-organized Filipino resistance to Spanish colonialism prior to the United States' intervention, and this resistance continued after the Spanish defeat. When the peace treaty was ratified, skirmishes between Filipino nationalists and United States forces had already occurred. These conflicts evolved into full-scale, pitched battles. The Filipinos also used guerrilla warfare tactics to resist what they considered an American replacement of Spain as the oppressor.

This turn of events in the early Spring, 1899, marks the beginning of the Philippine-American war (1899-1902) - a war which quickly involved the United States Army's African-American soldiers. All four black regiments which had previously fought in Cuba were dispatched to the Philippines in the summer of 1899. These African-American soldiers were to find themselves placed in an extremely difficult situation. They were foot soldiers for a racist ideology in which white Americans characterized Filipinos as they did African-Americans: as inferior, inept, and even subhuman. When the United States military occupied the Philippine islands, it installed a racist society which alienated both Filipino and African-American soldiers.(1)

This study examines how the African-American soldiers' social relations with Filipino civilians functioned within the broader context of racial imperialism and an imported Jim Crowism. Other works, such as Willard Gatewood's Black Americans and the White Man's Burden and Richard Welch's, Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine American War, discuss how turn-of-the-century imperialism related to the oppression of African-Americans. Gatewood's "Smoked Yankees" and the Struggle for Empire: Letters from Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902, a compilation of letters written by black soldiers to various African-American newspapers, and Michael Robinson and Frank Schubert's article "David Fagen: An Afro-American Rebel in the Philippines, 1899-1901" are examples of significant but not definitive contributions to understanding the African-American soldier's plight in the Pacific. Hence, the particular problem that the Philippine-American War posed for the African-American soldier has not been explored in great detail.

The Politics of Racial Imperialism

African-American soldiers' experiences in the Philippine-American War were affected by the ideological foundations of the United States' quest for empire. At the close of the nineteenth century, many white scholars and political theorists asserted not only that Anglo-Saxons were generally superior to other races and ethnic groups, but that they possessed a unique capacity for self-government. Self-government was considered a racial faculty, one that political editorialist Laurence Lowell claimed the "Anglo-Saxon race was prepared for... by centuries of discipline under the supremacy of law."(2)

This racial ideology was so pervasive in American society that even the political policy-makers, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, argued in support of or against U.S. expansion, with a logic based on the premise of Anglo-Saxon superiority. For those who supported imperialism, the expansion of United States' borders was an Anglo-Saxon destiny and duty. "I believe in providence," argued pro-imperialist Senator Orville Platt from Connecticut, "the same force was behind our army at Santiago and our ships in Manila Bay that was behind the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock."(3)

This Anglo-Saxon sense of mission inherently characterized Filipinos as inferior and lacking the intellectual development required for self-government. Colorado's Senator Thomas Patterson, for example, wondered whether or not "the Filipino of average intelligence distinguishes between an independent government and a benevolent paternal government. …

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