By Raymond Ward, Chicago Crusader
The DuSable Museum of African American History is pleased to present Part One of a new exhibition, “Clearing a Path for Democracy: Citizen Soldiers of the Eighth Illinois National Guard,” that tells the story of this unique regiment which was deployed in two foreign wars with a complete complement of African American officers. It was designated the 370th United States Infantry during World War I and the regiment was awarded more citations than any other American regiment that fought along Europe’s Western Front. The exhibition, which was curated by historian and guest curator Harold (Hari) Jones, opened on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at the DuSable Museum of African American History. Part Two will open in April 2018.
Citizen soldiers have served their nation, their states, and their communities throughout American history. National guardsmen are the quintessential citizen soldiers, and the men of the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard demonstrated the best qualities of this segment of American society. This Illinois regiment was unique in American history. It was deployed in two foreign wars with a complete complement of African American officers. It was designated the 370th United States Infantry during World War I, and fought bravely with the French armed forces beginning in 1918.
This exhibition tells the story of this unique Illinois regiment in two parts. The first part focuses on the Chicago citizens who organized and led the 8th Regiment and the accomplishments of the regiment before deploying to Europe during World War I. The second part focuses on the distinguished battle record of the 370th Regiment on the Western Front and the legacy of its soldiers and officers.
Curator Hari Jones stated, “The story of the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard reveals the political sophistication of Chicago’s African American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The community stood as a sterling example of what could be done despite racial discrimination.” He continued, “In a two-part exhibition, this story will be told, and this story is certain to challenge false images of Americans of African descent too often projected in the nation’s popular culture.”
Significant African American military contributions have been suppressed throughout American history, especially when those contributions demonstrated noteworthy leadership. During the Spanish American War and World War I, the 8th Illinois National Guard of Chicago was the only regiment led by African American officers, and those officers demonstrated such leadership. Their story was intentionally suppressed in the decades following World War I, by American military historians, and their martial accomplishments remain unsung. Therefore, their story must be told through primary sources with a focus on official military records and the soldiers’ voices.
Among the artifacts included in this exhibition are: a 1917 Combat Helmet; a 1917 enlisted uniform; an M1903 Rifle; a Mexican Border Service Medal, in addition to photographs, maps and a time-line video.
Lieutenant J.W. Curtis wrote that if anyone questions the leadership of the regiment’s officers, they need only “examine her records as kept in the imperishable archives of the War Department.” Redesignated the 370th Regiment U.S. Infantry during World War I, her records are also found in French archives because the regiment was attached to a French division. Given the race barriers in their own country, the soldiers viewed their efforts as making “the world safe for democracy” and “clearing a path for democracy” at home.
ABOUT HAROLD (HARI) JONES
Harold (Hari) Jones is a writer, lecturer, historian, curator and motivational speaker. For twelve years he was the assistant director and curator at the African American Civil War Freedom Foundation and Museum in Washington, D.C. He is currently an independent history consultant. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Petersburg National Battlefield Foundation and the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he presented his award-winning lecture series “The Lost Story” in the fall of 2015. He is one of the foremost authorities on the role of African Americans in the Civil War.
Hari curated the permanent exhibit at the African American Civil War Museum entitled “The Glorious March to Liberty.” In that exhibit, his commitment to the use of primary sources is evident. “In our exhibit,” says Hari, “we quote no scholars. If you were not there in the making of the history, you do not get a quote in our exhibit.” Hari has worked on exhibitions across the country. He was a content developer for the National Park Service (NPS) museum at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Tuskegee, Alabama, a content adviser for the American Civil War Center exhibit “Take Our Stand” and a content adviser for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) exhibit “Discovering the Civil War.”
“Clearing a Path for Democracy: Citizen Soldiers of the Eighth Illinois National Guard” is made possible by the generous assistance of The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, with additional support from the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park; Chicago Defender; Bronzeville Military Academy; Chicago History Museum; the 8th Infantry Association; Illinois Army National Guard; the Embassy of France/French Cultural Services, and the Office of Cultural Affairs of the Consulate General de France, in Chicago.
The DuSable Museum of African American History is located at 740 East 56th Place (57th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue) in Chicago, and is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 5:00 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults ($8 for Chicago residents), $7 for students and senior citizens ($5 for Chicago residents), $3 for children ages 6 through 11 ($2 for Chicago residents), with children 5 years of age and under admitted free. Admission is FREE on Tuesdays. The Museum can be reached by CTA buses #3, #4 and #55, limited free parking is available. For more information on this exhibition visit www.dusablemuseum.org, or telephone 773-947-0600.
About The DuSable Museum of African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History is one of the oldest independent Black history museums in the nation. Its mission is to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs and activities that illustrate African and African American history, culture and art. The DuSable Museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. For more information on the Museum and its programs, call 773-947-0600 or visit www.dusablemuseum.org.