W. Douglas Fisher, Joann H. Buckley. African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteers. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015. 285 pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4766-6315-9.
Reviewed by Shane Peterson (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-War (February, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley outline the story of the segregated Medical Officers Training Camp of World War I, citing 104 cases of black physicians who served in the army from a previously forgotten master class list. This can be seen as a companion book to Adam P. Wilson’s 2015 work, African American Army Officers of World War I, on the officers training school set up in Fort Des Moines. The project began with the story of Dr. Jonathan Nathaniel Rucker, from Nachez, Mississippi. Fisher, the grandson of a white WWI doctor, came into possession of his grandfather's wartime diary, which mentioned the African American Rucker.
Fisher came to know the extended Rucker family and the goal of finding the larger story began. I came to meet Fisher during his work in discovering Rucker’s birth city of Natchez, Mississippi, where I was also looking into the city’s World War I monument--a product of the Jim Crow era. As Fisher notes in the preface, “The success of later generations” was built on actions of the wartime officers “who brought so much to their communities” (p. 2).
The encyclopedic profiles are introduced with a concise outline of America’s entry into the war, with an emphasis on showing how unique these men were going into the army and how well they performed in dire situations. One of these was that the entire program of training black doctors “was an afterthought” (p. 8) and starved of resources in a national army training program that was already notorious for its brevity. In spite of this, one of the more notable African American combat units, the 370th, had four doctors from the program: Lieutenant George W. Antoine, Rufus Bacote, Claudius Ballard, and Dan M. Moore. The one KIA recorded by Fisher was First Lt. Urbane F. Bass, who lost both legs “from a mortar blast” while in the field with the 374th Infantry (p. 13).
The book is indexed with an up-to-date bibliography including an impressive manuscript work at Archives II near College Park, MD, supplemented with many regional collections. The list of published works runs up to 2015 and includes Wilson’s African American Army Officers of World War I. Fisher notes the loss of some five thousand African Americans in World War I, with their stories largely lost to history. In closing their work, Fisher and Buckley hold out the hope “that this work will start” the process of discovering more of this story. Today the WWI monument in Natchez, now part of a new United States Courthouse, holds more names than in 1924, a reflection that this hope is not misplaced.
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Shane Peterson. Review of Fisher, W. Douglas; Buckley, Joann H., African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteers.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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