Camp Sherman News - April 10, 1919

A Report on the First Negro Signal Corps (1919)

Prior to this great war there had never been a negro in the signal or engineer branches of the army. When the matter of a colored division came up, there was some doubt as to the ability of the negro to qualify for the highly specialized branches of the service that go to make up an army division.

Our collection, America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers, addresses a topic and period that continues to be of the widest interest and importance to scholars, students, and the general public – America in the World War I Era. Camp newspapers make important original source material—much of it written by soldiers for soldiers—readily available for research.

After much discussion the war department authorized the formation of the Three Hundred and Twenty-fifth Field Signal Battalion and the Three Hundred and Seventeenth Regiment of Engineers, and designated Camp Sherman as the mobilization point for these units. Quite recently these outfits returned from France and have been demobilized at this camp. Lieutenant Charles S. Smith of the Signal Battalion has the following to say regarding his unit:

When the war department decided to organize a colored division, it was of course necessary to have all the attached units colored, so on Nov. 3, 1917, the recruiting of a colored signal battalion was authorized. As the first step in the organization Major T. C. Spencer, now Lieutenant Colonel, was made division signal officer with headquarters at Camp Funston, Kansas. Knowing that the success of such a technical branch of the service required that the best the negro had to offer was essential. the major toured through the East and South, visiting the leading white and colored institutions, talking personally with the men and enlisting only those that he felt could and would make good. So from the first the organization was favored in that the men were “hand-picked.” To train this outfit it was obviously necessary to select men who knew signal work thoroughly, so Major Deems, then captain, was ordered to Camp Sherman to whip these men into shape that they might go across the water and do their ‘bit’ in helping make the world safe for democracy.

Source: The Camp Sherman News (The 83rd Division News) – April 10, 1919

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