Images from the Prints & Photographs Division’s collections help to illustrate the sustained contributions of Black Americans to the United States through military service over the course of the nation’s history. We hope you can join us for one of two “Finding Pictures: African Americans in the Military” webinar sessions this month (details at the bottom of the post), where we will show you a range of sample images from the collections, and provide some tips for searching our online catalog to find more. The images below are a small selection representing the kinds of images we will discuss.
Nearly 200,000 Black Americans fought in the American Civil War. The image below shows Sergeant Major William L. Henderson and Hospital Steward Thomas H.S. Pennington of the 20th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment. Soldiers represented in the collections are often unidentified in the historical documentation, so we are grateful that in this case the names of these men were written on the back of the photograph, enabling us to identify them in the online catalog record description.
Sergeant Major William L. Henderson and Hospital Steward Thomas H.S. Pennington of 20th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry Regiment in uniform. Photo by William H. Leeson, between 1864 and 1865. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40621
This photograph shows an unidentified Union soldier standing in front of a painted backdrop that features elements of a military camp, including tents, an American flag, and a group of soldiers chatting.
Unidentified African American soldier in Union artillery shell jacket and shoulder scales in front of painted backdrop showing military camp with flag. Photo from Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, between 1861 and 1865. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.37532
Moving forward several decades, we can see that images of Black soldiers from World War I are also represented in the collections. This photograph of two unidentified infantry soldiers demonstrates the continued popularity of painted backdrops. Might the train in the background signal that these men are soon to be deployed?
World War I Infantry soldiers, standing in front of photographers backdrop. Photo postcard from Gladstone Collection, between 1914 and 1918. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.11422
Tuskegee Airmen Robert W. Williams and Ronald W. Reeves can be seen in the foreground of this photograph taken by photographer Toni Frissell at a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy in March of 1945.
Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March, 1945. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1945. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13245
Around the same time, Susan Baptist, a member of the Women’s Army Corps, is shown in this image operating a projector. She was responsible for showing both training films and popular movies to boost morale.
Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps, between 1940 and 1950. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.00794
These are but a few of the images in the collections that relate to the history of African Americans’ service in the military. We hope you are able to join us for one of our webinar sessions to see more.
- Register for the free virtual orientation, which will be offered twice: on February 8 at 12pm EST and on February 16 at 3pm EST.
- Read a Picture This blog post about an iconic photograph from the Civil War of a soldier and his family.
- Explore the Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs and the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs to see more images related to the Civil War.