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North Dakota Black Contingent


By the first week of October in 1917, all of the North Dakota National Guard and approximately forty-five percent of those who were drafted had left the state for Camp Dodge, Iowa or Camp Greene, North Carolina. A third segment of the conscripted men had yet to receive their date of departure. Citizens and non-citizens, and all racial segments of North Dakota’s male population 21 to 30 years of age, had been required to register on June 5th. A number of Native Americans were included, and there were two Chinese from Stutsman County two more from Grand Forks County.

For black soldiers, there came an interesting twist. It had been rumored that German agents had attempted to raise a revolt among the black people of the United States. W. S. Turley, living south of Dickinson, quoted part of a speech made in early April by Roscoe Simmons, nephew of Booker T. Washington, as to the loyalty of the African-American. “Woodrow Wilson is my leader,” he said, “If he calls me to the colors I will not ask if my color is black or white… Grievances I have against this people, against this government. Injustice to me there is, bad laws there are upon the statute books, but,” he said, “in this hour of peril I forget – and you must forget, all thoughts of self or race, or creed or politics … or color.”

On October 14th, Provost Marshal General Crowder instructed Adjutant General Fraser that one percent of the black contingent of the North Dakota draft army was to prepare to move to Camp Dodge commencing on October 27th, where a black regiment would be formed. But the list of African-American men eligible in the entire state contained only fifty names! One per cent of this number means that one half of an individual had to be sent. For Harrison Abbott of Grand Forks, who had received his draft notice, this was a dilemma. He was to represent North Dakota’s one percent black quota. Jokingly, he commented that he was trying to figure out which part of his body he will have to send to training camp in order to comply with the Provost Marshal’s instructions. When his orders finally came, he stated that he was somewhat relieved at the thought that Uncle Sam wanted "all o' me there was to get."

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Weekly Times-Record, Oct 18, 1917

Grand Forks Herald, Oct 18, 1917 p12)

Ibid, October 27, 1917