The Army War College Studies Black Soldiers

In 1925, seven years after the end of World War I, the Army War College undertook a study to evaluate the fitness of black soldiers for service in a future war. The study's recommendations emphasized the importance of white officers and strict segregation of black troops; it was generally dubious about the prospects of black soldiers serving successfully in combat roles. Black combat soldiers during World War II, including the Tuskegee Airmen, thoroughly disproved these racist assumptions about their abilities, but it was not until the U.S. war against Korea in 1951 that the military made active moves to desegregate its units. The excerpts below include some of the report's conclusions and the reasoning behind them.

Selected Conclusions

In the process of evolution the American negro has not progressed as far as the other sub-species of the human family. As a race he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war. . . .

In the past wars the negro has made a fair laborer, but an inferior technician. As a fighter he has been inferior to the white man even when led by white officers. . . .

Negro soldiers as individuals should not be assigned to white units. . . .

Negro officers should not be placed over white officers, noncommissioned officers or soldiers. . . .

Negro officer candidates should attend training camps with white candidates. They should have the same instructors, take the same tests and meet the same requirements for appointment as officers as the white candidates. They should be sheltered, messed, and instructed separately from white candidates. . . .

. . . the eventual use of the negro will be determined by his performance in combat training and service. . . . If the negro makes good the way is left open for him to go into combat eventually with all-negro units.

Selected Assumptions about the Performance of African-American Soldiers in Previous Wars:

It is generally recognized that the pure blood American negro is inferior to our white population in mental capacity. . . . The cranial cavity of the negro is smaller than the white; his brain weighing 35 ounces contrasted with 45 for the white.

All officers, without exception, agree that the Negro lacks initiative, displays little or no leadership, and cannot accept responsibility. Some point out that these defects are greater in the Southern Negro. . . .

Due to his susceptibility to ‘Crowd Psychology’ a large mass of negroes, e.g., a division, is very subject to panic. Experience had indicated that the negroes produce better results by segregation and cause less trouble. Grouping of negroes generally in the past has produced demands for equality, both during war and after demobilization. . . .

An opinion held in common by practically all officers is that the negro is a rank coward in the dark. His fear of the unknown and unseen will prevent him from ever operating as an individual scout with success. His lack of veracity causes unsatisfactory reports to be rendered, particularly on patrol duty. . . .

One of the peculiarities of the negro as a soldier is that he has no confidence in his negro leaders, nor will he follow a negro officer into battle, no matter how good the officer may be, with the same confidence and lack of fear that he will follow a white man. This last trait has been so universally reported by all commanders that it can not be considered as a theory—the negroes themselves recognize it as a fact. . . .

The negro needs trained leadership far more than the white man needs it, and above all they need leaders in whom they have confidence, and whose presence they can feel and see at all times. . . . 

On account of the inherent weaknesses in negro character, especially general lack of intelligence and initiative, it requires much longer time of preliminary training to bring a negro organization up to the point of training where it is fit for combat, than it does in the case of white men. All theoretical training is beyond the grasp of the negro—it must be intensely practical, supplemented by plain talks explaining the reasons for things in simple terms. . . . 

Source | "Memorandum for the Chief of Staff regarding Employment of Negro Man Power in War, November 10, 1925," President's Official Files 4245-G: Office of Production Management: Commission on Fair Employment Practices: War Department, 1943; Archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu
Creator | U.S. Army War College
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | U.S. Army War College, “The Army War College Studies Black Soldiers,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 21, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/808.