Memorial to African American Officers Planned for Fort Des Moines

Negro History Bulletin, January-March 1998 | Go to article overview

Memorial to African American Officers Planned for Fort Des Moines


A monument will be built in the grounds of historic Fort Des Moines, Iowa to honor the first African American soldiers to graduate from the Army's Officer Candidate School, according to Lou Erbstein, Ft. Des Moines historian and museum curator.

Ft. Des Moines was the site of the first Officers Candidate School for African American soldiers, the 17th Provisional Officers training Camp, established in 1917 during World War I. Nearly 1,000 new recruits and 250 noncommissioned officers arrived in Des Moines in June 1917, to begin training at the camp, which was viewed as a great opportunity for black soldiers. At least 900 soldiers completed the training, which was held from June to October, and 639 of those were commissioned. Billed as a significant step toward equality for black soldiers in the US Army-- which did not occur on a systematic basis until President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which called for "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces--Lt. Colonel Ferguson stationed at the camp in 1917 told reporters, "I hope that the people of Des Moines will take a friendly attitude toward the camp." He continued, "The United States belongs to the colored man just as much as it does to us, and those men will prove as heroic as any in the service."

Erbstein, retired Major General Evan "Curly" Hultman, members of the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center, and members of the Iowa State Historical Association comprise the membership of the Ft. …

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