“Black Soldiers & the Great War in France,” co-sponsored lecture with University of Minnesota Prof. Saje Mathieu


The MU Departments of History and Black Studies, in partnership with the Kinder Institute, will bring University of Minnesota Associate Professor of History Saje Mathieu to campus (via Zoom) for a Thursday, April 15 lecture on “Race on the Line: Black Soldiers and the Great War in France.” The talk will take place from 4:30-6pm, and anyone interested in attending can contact Prof. Victor McFarland (mcfarlandv@missouri.edu) for the Zoom link to join.


More than one million Black soldiers and war workers poured into France and Belgium during World War One to save Europe from itself. When the first African American soldiers landed in France in summer 1917, they took up positions next to West African, South African, West Indian, and African Canadian troops all along the Western Front. Racial politics dictated what Black soldiers could do in Europe, when they were in battle, at leisure, or working as stevedores. This lecture will discuss Allied negotiations over the use of Black troops, including when practices in theater clashed with expectations on the Home Front. For example, South Africa insisted that under absolutely no condition would their Black recruits ever serve in integrated units, nor would Africans be trained to shoot white men, not even if it meant London and Paris falling to Berlin. Meanwhile Canada and the United States allowed their Black soldiers to serve as commissioned officers, albeit in limited numbers and at fixed ranks. As a result, contact between Black soldiers once in Europe transformed their sense of the possible during and after the war.


Dr. Saje Mathieu is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. She has previously been a fellow at the Warren Center and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, the Center for American Studies at the University of Heidelberg, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She earned a joint Ph.D. in History and African American Studies from Yale University. Dr. Mathieu specializes in twentieth-century American and African American history with an emphasis on immigration, war, race, globalization, social movements, and political resistance. She is the author of North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955 (UNC Press, 2010) and the forthcoming The Glory of Their Deeds: A Global History of Black Soldiers and the Great War Era.