Statement to French Authorities Concerning Black American Troops (1918)Note: Among those African American troops who served in France, the 369th Infantry became famous for its valor on the field. A total of 171 of the Harlem Hellfighters, as they were known, received French medals honoring their service.French Military Mission Stationed with the American Army August 7, 1918
Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops
1. It is important for French officers who have been called upon to exercise command over black American troops, or to live in close contact with them, to have an exact idea of the position occupied by Negroes in the United States. The information set forth in the following communication ought to be given to these officers and it is to their interest to have these matters known and widely disseminated. It will devolve likewise on the French Military Authorities, through the medium of the Civil Authorities, to give information on this subject to the French population residing in the cantonments occupied by American colored troops.
2. The American attitude upon the Negro question may seem a matter for discussion to many French minds. But we French are not in our province if we undertake to discuss what some call “prejudice.” American opinion is unanimous on the “color question” and does not admit of any discussion.The increasing number of Negroes in the United States (about 15,000,000) would create for the white race in the Republic a menace of degeneracy were it not that an impassable gulf has been made between them.
As this danger does not exist for the French race, the French public has become accustomed to treating the Negro with familiarity and indulgence.This indulgence and this familiarity are matters of grievous concern to the Americans. They consider them an affront to their national policy. They are afraid that contact with the French will inspire in black Americans aspirations which to them [the whites] appear intolerable. It is of the utmost importance that every effort be made to avoid profoundly estranging American opinion.Although a citizen of the United States, the black man is regarded by the white American as an inferior being with whom relations of business or service only are possible. The black is constantly being censured for his want of intelligence and discretion, his lack of civic and professional conscience and for his tendency toward undue familiarity.The vices of the Negro are a constant menace to the American who has to repress them sternly. For instance, the black American troops in France have, by themselves, given rise to as many complaints for attempted rape as all the rest of the army. And yet the [black American] soldiers sent us have been the choicest with respect to physique and morals, for the number disqualified at the time of mobilization was enormous.
1. We must prevent the rise of any pronounced degree of intimacy between French officers and black officers. We may be courteous and amiable with these last, but we cannot deal with them on the same plane as with the white American officers without deeply wounding the latter. We must not eat with them, must not shake hands or seek to talk or meet with them outside of the requirements of military service.
2. We must not commend too highly the black American troops, particularly in the presence of [white] Americans. It is all right to recognize their good qualities and their services, but only in moderate terms, strictly in keeping with the truth.
3. Make a point of keeping the native cantonment population from “spoiling” the Negroes. [White] Americans become greatly incensed at any public expression of intimacy between white women with black men. They have recently uttered violent protests against a picture in the “Vie Parisienne” entitled “The Child of the Desert” which shows a [white] woman in a “cabinet particulier” with a Negro. Familiarity on the part of white women with black men is furthermore a source of profound regret to our experienced colonials who see in it an over-weening menace to the prestige of the white race.Military authority cannot intervene directly in this question, but it can through the civil authorities exercise some influence on the population.
1. What reason does the memo give for the fundamental difference between racial attitudes in France and those in the United States?
2. In the Conclusion section, item 3 references our experienced colonials. Who were these people, and why were they equally unhappy about the photo of a white woman and a black man?
3. Does the author of this memo seem to support white American attitudes toward black soldiers? In other words, does the author seem sincere, or is this policy being adopted to appease white American leaders?