North Carolina during the First World War: (Dis)Organizing Southern Inclusiveness

AHA Session 217
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Steven Sabol, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Session Abstract

When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the country was materially unprepared to join its allies in the “Great War.” The federal government enlisted the state and local political and social institutions to mobilize the manpower and resources necessary to bring the conflict to its successful conclusion. It was an unprecedented effort to organize the United States on such a vast scale. However, scholarly studies that focus on the political and military organizing at the federal level tend to ignore or downplay the importance of state and local organizing. In particular, scholars tend to neglect the experiences of minorities and women before, during, and after the war. This roundtable will investigate the lived experience of groups not at the center of power but mobilized at the state and local levels in North Carolina, chiefly women and African American men on the home front and those sent abroad. This roundtable examines their experiences and reactions to various efforts to recruit, organize, and manage the war effort. Jim Crow politics and gender stereotypes warped the organization of these groups, but African American soldiers, women volunteers on the western front, female physicians, club women, and students from women’s colleges pushed back to claim at least a share of mobilization leadership and to change, at least partially, their perceived roles in society. Obscured by decades of histories and memories constructed by white men, the stories and experiences of black soldiers and women volunteers, at home and abroad, are crucial to understand fully the wartime experience of North Carolinians.

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