Black Military Photograph Collection

Black Military Photograph Collection

Finding Aid

Collection No. P33/BSC1 (1 Linear Foot)
D.C. Community Archives


The origin of this collection is undocumented.


Although African Americans have participated in every major U.S. war, the battle for integration and recognition of the accomplishments of black soldiers has been a slow process. It wasn’t until after World War II that the U.S. armed forces became integrated, under a 1948 executive order by President Harry S. Truman.
Of the more than 2.5 million blacks who registered for the draft in World War II, about 909,000 served in the Army. In 1944, there were more than 700,000 blacks in the Army; this represented the greatest proportion of blacks to total Army strength in World War II.  At its peak, only 8.7 percent of the Army — instead of the planned 10 percent — was black. In June 1945, blacks accounted for less than 3 percent of all men assigned to combat duty in the Army. About 78 percent of all black males — and only 40 percent of all white males in the Army — were placed in the service branches (including quartermaster, engineer, and transportation corps).
Among the millions who registered, Benjamin O. Davis was determined to integrate the Air Force. He became the first African-American Air Force officer to achieve general's rank, retiring as a lieutenant general in 1970. The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who enlisted to become America's first black military airmen, at a time when there were many people who thought that black men lacked intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism. These soldiers helped alter the ways in which society viewed blacks. 
Approximately 167,000 blacks served in the Navy during the war, about four percent of total Navy strength; and over 17,000 blacks enlisted in the Marine Corps, 2.5 percent of all marines.
The 761st Tank Battalion was one of the few black combat units to fight in World War II. During 183 days of combat in 1944 and 1945, the 761st, wearing the Black Panther patch, captured or liberated more than 30 major towns and four airfields. It suffered a 50 percent casualty rate and lost 71 tanks. It pierced the Siegfried Line into Germany and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  The unit also liberated the Nazi concentration camp “Gunskierchen” in Austria during the year of 1945.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981. The order brought an end to racial segregation within the ranks of the United States military forces.

Processing Procedures

General processing procedures included removing pictures from the construction paper that it was attached to. The correspondence were photocopied to acid-free paper. The collection was divided into the four braches of the armed forces, as well as identifying dates.

Scope and Content Note

This collection includes photographs and correspondence from soldiers in four branches of the armed forces: Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy. In many of the photos, you will see a young and exuberant Benjamin O. Davis, who accomplished a lot and made advancements for African American in the armed services. Photos of soldiers include field combat, hospital recuperation, and leisure time. Correspondence includes letters, press releases, and soldiers’ personal notes.  

Series 1: Army

  • Sub-series: Patient/Hospitals: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers receiving medical attention. Among the pictures are soldiers having their mouths checked out by dentists at a negro-staffed hospital. Another picture shows soldiers in the field caring to a wounded soldier. Other pictures show soldiers rehabilitating from injuries sustained during the call of duty. One of the most notable pictures is of Queen Elizabeth talking with a lieutenant, by his bedside, as he recuperates in an American hospital in England.
  • Sub-series: Individual and Group Pictures: This series contains pictures (1944-1946) of individuals and groups from the Army.  Included in the pictures are three soldiers standing in the snow pictured receiving the Soldier’s Medal for heroism in Nessenvaux, Belgium. In other pictures, you will find soldiers in uniform posing for pictures.
  • Sub-series: Individual and Group Pictures: This series contains pictures (no dates) of individuals. Among the pictures is a young man, Sgt. Conway Waddy, sweating under the cruel Italian sun.
  • Sub-series: Soldiers at Work: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of men and women performing their call of duty. Among the pictures are those of two troops in Berlin guarding American supplies, which was one of the most important jobs at the time.
  • Sub-series: Soldiers at Work in the Field: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers at work. Among the pictures are soldiers fixing two half-ton trucks in Mannheim, Germany. In another picture, soldiers are shown carrying out one of the most important jobs of American troops at the time — guarding American supplies, equipment and installation in the German capital.  Interestingly enough, there are women photographed working in the postal directory unit that was stationed in Rouen, France.
  • Sub-series: Leisure: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers playing ping-pong, shining shoes, reading letters from loved ones, and playing chess.
  • Sub-series: Honors/Awards: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers and family members of soldiers receiving honors/awards. In one picture, Major Poindexter, Medical Corps, of Washington, D.C. receives the Bronze Star Medal for “meritorious services” in the control of diseases in the tropical areas.

Series 2: Navy

  • Sub-series: Individual Pictures: This series contains pictures (1942-1944) of individuals from the Navy. Among the pictures, Dorie Miller is pictured; he was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism at Pearl Harbor when he manned a machine gun on the battleship Arizona after members of the gun crew had been put out of action.   
  • Sub-series: Individual and Group Pictures: This series contains pictures (no dates) of individual and groups. Abroad a U.S. Coast Guard-manned transport somewhere in the Pacific, a group of black Marines present a cheerful front. 
  • Sub-series: Honors/Awards: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers and family members of soldiers receiving honors/awards. Among those awarded: five Negro seamen receiving the Navy and Marine Corps medal for heroic conduct in fighting fires on burning ammunition cars after the explosion of the United States Naval Magazine. 
  • Sub-series: Leisure: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers receiving their first lessons in keeping their personal neatness up-to-par, in the photo you will see men shining their shoes.  
  • Sub-series: Soldiers at Work: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) men and women performing their call of duty. Among the pictures: black nurses prepare for emergency at sea. 
  • Sub-series: Training/Battle: This series contains pictures (1944-1946) men preparing for and engaging in battle. In one particular picture, men are shown on a tough obstacle course at a West Coast base for rigorous duties ahead.   

Series 3: Air Force

  • Sub-series: Individual and Group Pictures: This series contains pictures (1942-1944) of individual and group pictures from the Air Force. Among the pictures, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. stands alongside his P-51. The P-51 gave protection to the Fortresses and Liberators of the 15th Air Force in their bombing missions to enemy territory.  

Series 4: U.S. Coast Guard

  • Sub-series: Leisure: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of soldiers reading letters from loved ones, gambling and reading. 

Series 5: Marines

  • Sub-series: Leisure: This series contains pictures (1942-1946) of a soldier reading a letter acknowledging that he was the recipient of the Purple Heart award for wounds received in the battle of Saipan.  

Series 6: Correspondence

This series contains correspondence (1944-1946) press releases and personal notes.

Series 7: Miscellaneous

This series contains pictures (1942-1945) of individual and group pictures.  One picture shows the other side of war that can go unnoticed — death.  The body of a dead black soldier bears mute testimony to the force of the German drive down the Serchio Valley in December. 


There are no restrictions to this collection.

Box List

Series I: Army

Box 1

FF1 Leisure
FF2 Honors/Awards
FF3 Individual and group pictures
FF4 Individual and group pictures
FF5 Patients/Hospitals
FF6  Soldiers at work
FF7 Soldiers at work

Series II: Navy

FF8 Individual and group pictures
FF9 Individual and group pictures
FF10  Training/Battle
FF11 Training/Battle
FF12  Leisure
FF13 Soldiers at work
FF14 Honors/Awards
FF15  Honors/Awards

Series III: Air Force

FF16 Individual and group pictures 

Series IV: Marines

FF17 Leisure

Series V: U.S. Coast Guard 

FF18 Leisure

Series VI: Correspondence

FF19 Correspondence

Series VII: Miscellaneous

FF20 Miscellaneous
Compiled by David Edmonds, July 2009

DC Public Library, Special Collections
D.C. Community Archives
901 G St. NW, Room 307
Washington, D.C.  20001

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