News Tip: Memorial Day -- Civil Rights Movement Forged in Crucible of World War I

History professor Adriane Lentz-Smith discusses the war's place in the U.S. civil rights movement

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. As Memorial Day approaches, Duke University history professor Adriane Lentz-Smith can discuss the war's place in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Adriane Lentz-SmithAssociate professor, Department of History, Duke Universityadl16@duke.edu

"This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Both events were watersheds in modern history, but the centennial anniversary reminds us that African-Americans had been fighting wars for democracy long before the Supreme Court declared segregation in education unconstitutional."

"Black intellectual Kelly Miller labeled World War I a 'world war for human rights.' For the roughly 380,000 African-Americans who served in the military during the war years, and for the millions of civilians who pinned their hopes on black soldiers, it was certainly a great war for civil rights."

"Their experiences in camps in the U.S. and abroad were by turns empowering, disillusioning, revelatory and devastating; African-Americans in World War I saw how far their fellow Americans would go to preserve segregation, often beating and policing them with as much fervor as they did any foreign enemy. At the same time, African-Americans discovered places abroad where the color line worked differently and foreign troops of color who made them imagine communities not bound by national borders. World War I gave African-Americans what one soldier dubbed 'the world's experience,' and shaped veterans' political consciousness and strategies for pursing change ever after."

"On this Memorial Day we should remember that the civil rights movement was forged in the crucible of World War I."