During World War II, African-American enlistment was at an all-time high, with more than 1 million serving in the armed forces. However, the U.S. military was still heavily segregated. The air force and the marines had no African Americans enlisted in their ranks, and the navy only accepted African Americans as cooks and waiters. The army had only five African-American officers. In addition, no African-American would receive the Medal of Honor during the war, and their tasks in the war were largely reserved to noncombat units. African American soldiers had to sometimes give up their seats in trains to the Nazi prisoners of war.

It would take over 50 years and a presidential order before the U.S. Army reviewed their records in order to award any Medals of Honor to African American soldiers. This war marked the end of segregation in the U.S. military. In 1948 President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially ending segregation and racial inequality in the military.

In the photo below (courtesy National Archives and Records Administration), African American soldiers draw rations at the camp cook-house at their station in Northern Ireland, their camp in Carrickfergus is thought to of been at Irish Quarter South. Detachments of African American troops were among the first arrivals with the American forces in Northern Ireland. Later, thousands of applicants from the 1st Armoured Division and the 34th Infantry Division and other units in Northern Ireland.

Racial tension

Although a certain amount of racial tension occurred with the arrival of coloured American troops, much of this was generated between black and white soldiers within the US force itself, with minimal problems occurring with the civilian population.

An extract from a letter from a Black GI to the members of the Northern Ireland Government.

Dear Sirs,

I am an American, coloured, soldier. My group of fellows have been stationed here in Antrim for 9 months. We are trying to do our part in the fight for freedom, but since we have been here we have met so much sergregation [sic], prejudice and strife. Some time we doubt the allied cause.

We are stationed near Antrim, located in the town, at the establishments of Hall’s and Murphy’s. They are hotel owners. In visiting these establishments, we have been sergregated. To describe one incident, a friend and I visited Hall’s, they refused to serve us because we are coloured. Dear Sir, you and I both know that regardless of colour, we are all human. We come to Ireland not because we wanted to, but we came to do our part in the war. Since being here we have gained the respect of the people of Ireland.

One town in particular is Carrickfergus. We were there for five weeks and I can assure you that we were perfect gentlemen. When we left the people cried; they want us to stay there. The people of that town is giving us a party on the 23rd of this month. Sir, for the people like us then we must be gentlemen. The wee kids here they cried for us to return to them. We visit them at every opportunity. The people are always glad to see us. If we treat the people nice, then they should treat us the same. I believe that you are a man of justice and I think that you believe is right.

Regardless to where a man is born or regardless to his colour, every man has his right to enjoy life here on this earth. Just because I am a dark man doesn’t mean I am not intelligent. The anatomy of the white man is the same as the dark man. God created all men as a brother, and my belief is that since we are all here in Ireland we should live as brothers and sisters and not as enemies. We hate to walk the streets of Belfast merely because we are insulted. They use the words ‘nigger’ and ‘darky’. Those are two words that we hate. Those words were brought here by the American whites. The American whites taught the people those words in order to start strife and envy among the people and us. The Americans are the lowest breed of the human race. They fear us because of our ability to advance in knowledge. We want to be friends of the Irish, not enemies. We want the people to like us not hate us. If your people visit Africa or some dark continent, they should be treated as human.

Sir, will you try your influence on the people? To show our love for the Irish children, our battalion raised a fund to support an Irish orphan for five years. We love the children and they love us. As I walked through the streets of Ireland, accepting insults, I sometimes wonder if the people are ignorant to the fact that they are insulting us. Please try your influence to correct the people on these errors. Print it in the paper that we are coloured Americans not niggers or darkies. Lately we have had fights with British sailors and soldiers. They call us Black B*****ds, son-of b*****s. We take these to a certain degree. Carrickfergus is the only town in Northern Ireland that we like because when we visited there we are treated like human. I believe all Irish are kind. I would reveal my name but if I did the American Authorities would Court Martial me. They don’t like the truth.

I close in the name of the God of all men.

A coloured soldier.


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