Our World War I Soldier Relatives
In honor of the recent release of Max Brooks’ book Harlem Hellfighters and 4th of July, I decided to remember our brave relatives that also fought in World War I. Included in this list are Willie T. Steele, Leo C. Steele, John Kennedy Steele, Edward H. Bell, Ambrose L. Reid, and for this installment I am going to mention Charles Stewart Jr., which is my Mother’s Great Uncle, and Gordon H. Kitchen (my Mother’s Father). Frank P Steele and George A. Steele both signed up for the draft but may have been considered too old in 1918. When I found Uncle George’s draft card, which he filled out in Washington D. C, they had him listed as white.
After the Civil War, the Army made a decision to disband the “colored” regiments and established four regular Army regiments of all black troops with white officers. There were two Infantry troops (24th and 25th) and two cavalry regiments (9th and 10th). The 9th and the 10th regiments were used heavily in the Indian War, and during the Spanish War all four regiments saw action.
When World War I broke out many African American men rose to the call to volunteer their services only to be turned down because the quota for African Americans was filled. Once the war effort was underway and the draft was instituted a different story played out. Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917. The United States would need more then its 126,000 men if they were to ensure a victory overseas. As African Americans signed up for the draft in many cases (especially in Georgia) the recruiters tore off the corner of their registration card in order for the draft board to identify them first before other White draftees. I have attached a copy of Ambrose’s draft papers and you can clearly see that the corners have been removed. If you view Uncle George’s papers his are completely intact. The entire army made up 10 percent of the total population of the US but 13 percent of the Army was African American. The Navy wanted to keep segregation alive and would only allow African Americans to serve in menial positions in the Navy and Coast Guard. With considerable backlash from the African American community the War Department created the 92nd and 93rd Divisions; which were primarily Black combat units in 1917. (www.militaryhistoryonline.com) By the end of the war Blacks held a number of positions including surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, engineers, and intelligence officers. The Armed Forces did not become fully integrated until 1948.
For more reading on African American soldiers in WWI, please see: The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in WWI, by Arthur E. Barbeau & Florette Henri, The Right to Fight: A History of African-Americans in the Military, by Gerald Astor, and Soldiers of Freedom, by Kai Wri.
I found an article in the Milledgeville News August 7, 1918 under the headline 68 COLORED MEN SENT TO WHEELER with a byline A Total of 131 Have Been Sent From This County During a Period of One Week, Monday’s Draft Largest. Included in the list of the 68 are the names Willie T. Steele (1894 – ?) son of Willie F Steele and Katie Ingram(grandfather Charlie Steele), Leo C. Steele (1894-1948) and John Kennedy Steele (1890 – 1941) both son’s of Frank P. Steele and Martha Tompkins (grandfather Frank P. Steele). These young men ended up joining the army.
Article in the Milledgeville News August 7, 1918
Here is a copy of Ambrose Reid draft card. He was in the army until April of 1918. Notice the corners of his card are cut off to alert the draft board that he is African American.
Leo Steele was stationed in Vitteaux, (Cote-d’Or) France on the back it reads “ To Annie Laura and Buddy from Leo Hope all are well and happy. Kiss the children for me. Leo
Vitteaux is situated in the Cote d'Or (Burgundy region) about 239 KM from Paris
Sgt. John K. Steele CC USA
Edward Harris Bell (1890 - ) son of George Bell and Geneva Turner ended up joining the Navy.
The Navy’s segregation policies limited African American enrollment during War World I and barred enlistments altogether from 1919 to 1932.
My Grandfather Gordon H. Kitchen served aboard the USS Pueblo from 1917 – 1919 as a Mess Attendant. Every time he crossed the equator he was awarded a silver dollar.
Charles C. Stewart Jr.
My Mother’s Uncle from Des Moines, IA
So as we continue year after year celebrating the 4th of July remember that we have a history in American and our families have been contributors to this country during the peace times and supporters during war times. ……They’ll see how beautiful I am. And be ashamed- I, too, am America. Langston Hughes
If anyone has additional photos or stories please share!! Thanks! www.steelebell.blogspot.com
Research Update: I finally tracked down more of William Steele’s family. You may remember that William Steele (Father to the 5 Steele children by Sarah/Sallie Keen) was declared a lunatic by the court in 1856; his brother Ralph B. Steele signed the order. Ralph was married to Fanna Mallet and had two children Cornelia and William G. Steele. They lived in New Haven, CT. Ralph died in January 1859 and our William died in November of 1859. William G. Steele inherited everything. I am now trying to work backwards from this information to find out the parents of William, Ralph, George and unknown sisters. We are match genetically to a Samuel Steele one of the sons of the founders that settled Hartford, CT.
Family Finder DNA now has a more detailed data based of family origins. I have attached my new chart and Bubba’s new chart. Since Bubba has a Y chromosome he is carrying the direct line from father to father. So through Bubba we can trace the Steele line. As technology gets better we will see new information to help our search! I thought the Scandinavian origin was interesting. I have got to start watching The Vikings on the History Channel!!