85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Title: Race, Labor, Sex, and Memory from the Confederacy to the Korean War
Arwin Smallwood, North Carolina A&T State University
Chris Dixon, Macquarie University
Participant's Paper Title: African Americans and the Korean War: Race, Memory, and the Controversial Case of the 24th Infantry Regiment
Participant's Paper Abstract: In August 1950, just a few weeks after communist armies invaded South Korea, the 24th Infantry Regiment - a segregated all-black unit with a history dating back to the 1860s - found itself confronting North Korean forces at the Pusan Perimeter. Heavily outnumbered, the 24th performed unevenly in combat: while some men showed remarkable courage under the most adverse of circumstances, others fled the field of battle. The story of the 24th Regiment provoked immediate controversy. Where some critics turned to long-established tropes regarding the purported inability of African Americans to withstand the rigors of combat, others blamed the unit's performance on the failings of its leaders, particularly its white officers. Both explanations were thereby framed by notions of 'race.' The case of the 24th was soon linked to wider racial issues, and was used to argue that military authorities should move more promptly to desegregate the US Army, in line with President Truman's 1947 Executive Order 9981. Amid widespread debate, the Army responded by disbanding the 24th Regiment. Yet the history of the 24th remained divisive, as highlighted during the 1990s by the attempts of some black veterans to block the publication of Black Soldier, White Army: The 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea, published under the auspices of the US Army's Center for Military History. By examining the enduring historical and historiographical controversy surrounding the 24th Regiment, this presentation considers the relationship between race, memory, and military history. Part of a larger project examining Black America and the Korean War, this paper also highlights the importance of race in the United States' mid-twentieth-century quest to thwart communism and present itself as an international exemplar of freedom.
Kathleen Alfin, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Participant's Paper Title: Uncle Sugar's Belles: Segregation, Sex, and the U.S. Army in Liberia during the Second World War'
Participant's Paper Abstract: In June of 1942, the United States Army deployed its only 'integrated' unit to Liberia following the ratification of the Defense Areas Agreement in March. Known as United States Army Forces in Liberia (USAFIL), this unit spearheaded the movement of Allied aircraft from North America across the African continent to the Middle East and India. Despite being an integral asset to combat operations in multiple theaters, USAFIL became embroiled in scandal when photographs of white soldiers posing with native women leaked from Liberia in March of 1943. This incident spurred an investigation by the Secretary of War into 'alleged notorious conditions' in the African republic. The subsequent inquiry exposed a complex prostitution operation operated and funded by the U.S. Army with support from the Firestone Company and the Liberian government. This paper explores the U.S Army's segregated prostitution scheme in Liberia and critically examines the conditions that gave rise to it. I also compare and contrast the sex scandal in Liberia with instances of military prostitution elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and Asia during the Second World War. Finally, this paper attempts to tease out the experience of the the Liberian women who engaged in sex work for the U.S. Army and understand the implications it had for them following the conflict.
Caroline Newhall, UNC Chapel Hill
Participant's Paper Title: Worked to Death: Black POWs as Slave Labor in the Confederacy's Carceral Landscape
Participant's Paper Abstract: Black prisoners of war had no physical spaces around which to create a shared memory after the American Civil War. While the names Andersonville, Elmira, Libby, and many others served as nodes of common trauma shared by tens of thousands of white POWs, a few thousand black POWs diffused across the Confederacy as reclaimed slave labor. My paper argues that the Confederacy itself served as black POWs' carceral landscape; masters and plantations, as much as militaries and prisons, enforced a white supremacist social order. The Confederacy required no new systems for handling black soldiers, but rather adapted its extant slave codes to the demands of warfare. Black POWs traveled with Confederate armies as enslaved laborers, were returned to their former owners, sold off to new masters, and put to work on fortifications. Black POWs spread across the Confederate landscape as they were visibly unmade as soldiers and remade as slaves. This paper will use black POWs' testimony in their pension files to demonstrate that the Confederacy's vested interest in black men as enslaved property and labor often resulted in black POWs' forced labor rather than incarceration in military prisons. Black POWs' vulnerability as reclaimed slaves made it difficult to condense their narrative into a clear and comprehensive picture within the larger context of the Civil War. Historians have understandably focused on those black POWs who languished in military prisons such as Andersonville in large part due to the availability of the Official Records of the armies and navies and white POWs' accounts of black prisoners in their postwar memoirs. As I will argue, however, the majority of black POWs appear to have been used, reclaimed, or sold as labor rather than sequestered away in prison camps.