We Return Fighting
This exhibition closed on September 6, 2020.
We Return Fighting immerses visitors into a conversation that examines what fighting in the first global war meant for African Americans.
About the Exhibition
Interactive Media, Photography, and Luminaries
World War I Era
Military and Societal Experience
World War I was a transformative international conflict that had a significant impact on the nation and world. People were determined to change the pre-war status quo within their respective regions of the world. For African Americans, WWI represented the next major opportunity to reassert post-Civil War expectations of full citizenship. They assumed that participating in a war to help make the world safe for democracy would in turn help them achieve their own level of democracy. However, they returned to an unchanged America. As a result of the status quo, African Americans gave birth to the “New Negro”, who aggressively pursued new racial attitudes, ideals, and cultural expressions.
Journey Through the Exhibition
African American Women in World War I
It was not just men who heeded Du Bois’s call to fight for democracy. Although they could not enlist, African American women played a crucial role. (Credit: Illustrated by Frank Walts, Gift of Bobbie Ross in memory of Elizabeth Dillard)
A Closer Look
Mobocracy vs. Democracy: A Pictorial Protest
This staged image poetically speaks volumes. Note the commissioned officer captain’s uniform and items, such as the pistol, but more importantly, the body language and expression of defiant disbelief.
“A Man Was Lynched Yesterday"
As a result of the war years, the NAACP became the strongest civil rights organization capable of fighting against post-war prejudice and discrimination. ...For eighteen years, it boldly flew a huge flag over its New York headquarters stating, “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.”
African American Women Overseas
Addie W. Hunton, Kathryn M. Johnson, and Helen Curtis were the only three known black women the U.S. government officially permitted to travel to France during the war. While there, they ran YMCA canteens and leave stations catering to African American soldiers.
A. Philip Randolph
(Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, A. Philip Randolph Papers)
W.E.B Du Bois
Ida B. Wells
Col. Charles Young
Mary Church Terrell
Lt. Charles Hamilton Houston
Oscar De Priest
(Chicago History Museum, ICHi-018381; R. D. Jones, photographer)
Distinguished Service Cross and ribbon issued to Lewis Broadus, Awarded 1906; issued 2006
U.S. World War I Victory medal issued to Cpl. Lawrence Leslie McVey, 1919-40
Purple Heart medal issued to Cpl. Lawrence Leslie McVey, 1932-40
Small box respirator, 1917-18
Entrenching tool, 1914-18
Bullet casing trench art sculpture, 1914-18
French Adrian Helmet, 1915-26
French Army canteen, 1914-18
Presentation saber and scabbard used by Colonel Charles Young, 1914-22
Sweetheart pendant with portrait of a soldier, 1917-19
Nénette and Rintintin Dolls, 1914-17
French Senegalese Tirailleur Uniform, ca. 1915
“Madagascar” Souvenir Plate, date unknown
Prosthesis for forearm, date unknown
Black Shame coin, 1920
About the Book
A richly illustrated commemoration of African Americans' roles in World War I highlighting how the wartime experience reshaped their lives and their communities after they returned home. This stunning book presents artifacts, medals, and photographs alongside powerful essays that together highlight the efforts of African Americans during World War I.