As 1918 progressed and the Allies gained new strength with the arrival of American troops, Fritz grew desperate. He dropped propaganda leaflets from the air onto American positions, hoping to sow doubt among this freshest enemy:
“To the Colored Soldiers of the US Army: Hello boys, what are you doing over here? Fighting the Germans? Why?”
They had been told that it was “for the sake of humanity and Democracy.” But what is Democracy, the leaflets asked, if not personal freedom and equal rights before the law. “Do you enjoy the same rights as white people do in America, the land of freedom and Democracy[?] Can you get into a restaurant where white people dine? Can you get a seat in a theatre where white people sit?”
The leaflets spouted a few Marxist shibboleths and scolded the intended readers for being “fools if you allow people to make you hate us,” and ” to use you as cannon fodder.” But they ended with a friendly invitation: “Come over [to Germany] and see for yourself.”
There is no evidence any soldiers took up the offer. Nor is there evidence that the Germans put much effort into this campaign.
“Colored” American soldiers stuck with their country through the deadly Meuse-Argonne offensive, up to armistice and beyond. But when the Allies celebrated their victory the next summer, U.S. Army brass did not allow segregated black units to even march down the Champs Elysees with their white compatriots.
There were plenty of things the Germans misjudged or got flat wrong in the catastrophe that was the First World War. Calling out American hypocrisy was not one of them.
Hunton, Addie W. and Johnson, Kathryn M. Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces. London: G. K. Hall & Co., 1997.
Bryan, Jami L. “Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI.” (2018) https://www.military.com/history/fighting-for-respect-african-american-soldiers-wwi.html.