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Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives / Thomas J. Freeman, who served in the 809th Pioneer Infantry, Medical Corp, died in 1918 in France.

One hundred years ago this month, President Woodrow Wilson was preparing for the culmination of his two-term presidency. While he had entered office with high expectations of reforming government and improving economic opportunities for citizens, the United States' entrance into the Great War remains the most recognizable action of his presidency.

After years of proclaiming United States neutrality in the European powder keg of entangling alliances, increasing militarism and competitive foreign policies, the nation was drawn into the horror of trench warfare with Wilson's request for a declaration of war on April 4, 1917, acknowledging that the conflict in Europe had become "a war against all nations." A military expansion was necessary and, when the Great War began, the Marine Corps excluded all Blacks, the Navy limited their service duties to non-combat roles (cooks, stewards, etc.) and the Army, which had fielded Black units for decades, remained segregated.

Despite this history, many Black men, including residents of Hamilton County and surrounding areas, responded to the call to duty, envisioning military service as a way to elevate their citizenship and broaden social equality. While total local service numbers are difficult to ascertain, more than 370,000 Blacks would serve in the Great War as a part of the American Expeditionary Force of more than 1 million.

As a nation, we have always held in the highest esteem those members of our military who have served and sacrificed in the fight for liberty, equality and justice.

During Black History Month, it is appropriate, and somewhat ironic, to recall the 32 local Black soldiers who died in service during the Great War, fighting for rights and privileges that often eluded them at home. The roster notes those who died in training and combat along with those who succumbed to the influenza epidemic and its accompanying pneumonia.

* Dec. 2, 1917: Charles Stevenson, Company M, 368th Infantry. Died in hospital.

* Feb. 3, 1918: John Reynolds, Company D, 304th Stevedores. Died in Norfolk hospital.

* Feb. 13, 1918: Carlton Burrell, Company M, 368th Infantry, 92nd Division. Died in hospital.

* March 4, 1918: Ed Edmerson, Company M, 368th Infantry. Died in hospital.

* April 2, 1918: Carl Houston, Supply Troop, 9th Cavalry. Died in hospital.

* April 20, 1918: Nathan Smith, Company M, 368th Infantry. Died in hospital.

* July 17, 1918: June Lott, Company M, 368th Infantry. Drowned.

* Aug. 24, 1918: Ralph Dobbins, 161st Depot Brigade. Died in hospital.

* Sept. 20, 1918: John Dennis, 158th Depot Brigade. Died in United States.

* Sept. 25, 1918: Henry Houston, Company G, 304th Pioneer Infantry. Died at sea.

* Sept.27, 1918: Mallie Davis, Company M, 368th Infantry. Killed in France.

* Sept. 27, 1918: Oscar Igou, 368th Infantry. Killed in France.

* Sept. 27, 1918: Buford McCullough, Company G, 304th Pioneer Infantry. Killed in France.

* Sept. 27, 1918: Alfred Orr, Company G, 368th Infantry. Died from wounds received in action.

* Sept. 28, 1918: Lawrence Roberts, Company H, 370th Infantry. Killed in France.

* Sept. 29, 1918: Curtis Givens, Company M, 368th Infantry. Killed in France.

* Oct. 8, 1918: Thomas J. Freeman, 809th Pioneer Infantry, Medical Corp. Died in France.

* Oct. 8, 1918: James H Gholston, 258th Depot Brigade. Died in hospital.

* Oct. 11, 1918: Albert Sykes, Company 45, 158th Depot Brigade. Died in United States.

* Oct. 22, 1918: James Foster. Died at Camp Custer.

* Oct. 24, 1918: Charles Toran, 6th Company, Recruit Camp 3. Died from pneumonia at Camp Greene.

* Nov. 25, 1918: Ed Robinson, 163rd Depot Brigade. Died in the United States.

* Dec. 12, 1918: Jesse Tucker, Company K, 814th Pioneer Infantry. Died in Winchester, England.

* Feb. 17, 1919: Willie Atkins, Company D, 24th Infantry. Killed in train accident.

* Feb. 26, 1919: Vernal Davenport, 158th Depot Brigade, Company 1, 6th Pioneer Infantry. Died in the United States.

* Feb. 29, 1919: Jim Hayes. Died in USA.

* March 13, 1919: Walter E. Brown, Company E, 802nd Pioneer Infantry. Died in accident. Buried in France.

* May 12, 1919: Clifton Gordon, Company C, 534th Engineers. Killed in France.

* June 26, 1919: Austin Croft, Company G, 804th Pioneer Infantry. Died in hospital.

* July 12, 1919: William Lawiah, Company E, 802nd Pioneer Infantry. Died in hospital.

* Nov. 6, 1919: Zannie Ware, 9th Cavalry. Cause not noted.

* Dec. 1, 1919: Cleveland Bryant, Company M, 368th Infantry, 92nd Division. Died in hospital.

African-American units often were attached to Allied forces where their combat performance earned praise and accolades of "courage and valor in the faces of the enemy."

Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, is secretary of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council and the regent, Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.

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