The Black And White War

Last Updated on: 8th November 2022, 08:50 am

Gill has an interesting thought at the end here. So often we hear stories about family we’ve never met and never will. They’re almost always held up as salt of the earth human beings, maybe even heroes. But what kind of people were they, really? It sometimes feels like you’re not supposed to ask or even think about it. Ditto for a lot of what gets taught in history classes. So much gets left out either because it prevents us from having to confront our own failings or because it’s far too complicated and some questions just can never be answered.

At the dawn of the 20th century race relations were tenuous at best, and movements such as the Great Migration in the United States saw many people of color from the rural and segregated south move to larger cities in the north for opportunities.  But what was World War 1 like?

Harding’s War

The Harding I am referring to is my great-great-uncle {1886-1920}  who served in France in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 73rd division if you would like to look at the book of Remembrance.  He left my great-great-aunt Selmo Mitchell-Walter with a babe in arms daughter Isla, but came back different.

Canada’s Jim Crow

When people think Jim Crow Segregation, they often think of Tennessee or Alabama with signs saying “Whites Only” or water fountains for “Coloreds”, but those aren’t the only places that used prejudices to segregate.  The Canadian Army was also segregated. There was an all black division, but instead of being handed rifles and heroes welcomes like my great-great-uncle they were forced to do menial tasks and told to dig the trenches my great-great-uncle and his men were in.

This Leaves Me Curious

If Harding had seen one of his brothers in arms, would he have broken bread with them, or would he have held the prejudices of the era?  I’ll never know as he died in 1920.

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