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Communications

Preserving the History of African-American Soldiers

By Jessica Harris

James Reese No. 5 band

The Post No. 5 band on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (September 1939).

American University School of Communication Professor Angie Chuang and Professor Brenda V. Smith of Washington College of Law partnered together to capture the past and preserve a future for the stories of war veterans.  A grant secured through a proposal competition, hosted by The Metropolitan Policy Center, provided the duo with the means to assess and preserve the archival record of African American war veterans.  

As a result the James Reese Europe Post No. 5 was birthed. 

“Brenda actually knew some of the members of the Post through her church. They had told her how they were losing membership. Most of the leadership was in their 80s and didn’t want the house to be sold and the history to just pass away,” professor Chuang, a journalism professor,  explains. Her research and teaching focuses on race and identity issues in the media.

Smith is a Professor for Washington College of Law.  She and her students maintain Community & Economic Development Law clinic.  For more information about the James Reese Europe Post No. 5 and the veterans who shared their stories visit A Century of Service

This project provides an opportunity for crucial historic moments to be documented for those to come. The original post formed in 1919 after the veterans returned from WWI. It provided a space for African American veterans, who were turned away from white American Legion posts, fellowship and representation. 

It was a story that remained untold and just like Post 5’s row house on Capitol Hill, it was neglected until Chuang, Smith and a team of SOC graduate students began to cultivate 

“Journalistically it is a great story. One of my favorite aspects of this project is the empowerment the WWII returnees had acquired during their time of service. Some of them pioneered many civil rights groups and organizations,” Chuang said. 

Now that the post has received some recognition, they hope to keep building the website, documenting the stories of more veterans.