Free speech for African Americans during World War I had to be exercised with great caution. The federal government, spurred by a superpatriotic and often alarmed white public, determined to suppress any dissent against the war and require 100% patriotism from the black population. These pressures were applied by America’s modern political intelligence system, which emerged during the war. Its major partners included the Bureau of Investigation (renamed the FBI in 1935); the Military Intelligence Division; and the investigative arms of the Post Office and State departments. Numerous African American individuals and institutions, as well as 'enemy aliens' believed to be undermining black loyalty, became their targets.
Fears that the black population was being subverted by Germans multiplied as the United States entered the war in April 1917. In fact, only a handful of alleged enemy subversives were ever identified, and none were found to have done anything more than tell blacks that they had no good reason to fight, or that Germany would win. Nonetheless, they were punished under wartime legislation which criminalized anti-war advocacy.
Theodore Kornweibel, Jr. reveals that a much greater proportion of blacks was disenchanted with the war than has been previously acknowledged. A considerable number were privately apathetic, while others publically expressed dissatisfaction or opposition to the war.
Kornweibel documents the many forms of suppression used to intimidate African Americans, and contends that these efforts to silence black protest established precedents for further repression of black militancy during the postwar Red Scare.
“During World War I, the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) and other government intelligence agencies strove to suppress any dissent against the war and enforced upon America's black population one hundred percent patriotism—no opposition tolerated. In "Investigate Everything," Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., examines the U.S. government's overzealous efforts to control the African American community, efforts that can be seen as a prelude to the repression of black militancy during the post-War Red Scare, the subject of the author's previous book, "Seeing Red" (Indiana University Press, 1998).
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Here's a scenario to consider: America awoke to find itself attacked by foreigners committing unthinkable acts of terrorism. The attack, heard and seen throughout the New York area, gripped the entire nation and shattered its sense of invulnerability and security. In the months that followed, enemy agents were rounded up, while rumors of still more sabotage continued to multiply. An entire ethnic group was stigmatized as disloyal. The FBI swung into action to ferret out suspects. "Tips" from paranoid citizens resulted in the arrests of still more. Civil liberties took a beating. Many individuals were targeted simply because of their religious beliefs. The President led the country into war, not to conquer enemy territory, but to make the world a safer place. America had been forever changed.
This happened not in 2001, but 85 years earlier. In 1916 German saboteurs blew up ammunition warehouses on the New Jersey side of New York harbor causing an inferno visible for miles. Early in 1917 German attacks against American ships propelled the nation into World War I. Almost immediately, whites in and outside of government suspected African Americans of being either disloyal, or the gullible dupes of German agents. Black editors and publications were threatened and prosecuted. So too were individuals who dared to question the President. An entire black denomination, the Church of God in Christ, was charged with disloyalty and its leadership arrested. Led by the FBI, the federal government demanded unquestioning loyalty from the distrusted and persecuted black minority. These long forgotten events, pieced together through examination of thousands of FBI and army intelligence reports, are for the first time fully revealed in "Investigate Everything": Federal Efforts to Compel Black Loyalty During World War I.”
“Kornweibel's book provides a sound specialized complement to existing broader surveys of WW I repression. . . while amounting to a prequel to his earlier Seeing Red: Federal Campaigns against Black Militancy, 1919–1925 (1998). Well organized and based on massive archival research. . . . Upper-division undergraduates and above.January 2003”
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Table of Contents
Prologue: "Patriotism and Loyalty Presuppose Protection and Liberty"
Chapter 1. "It became necessary to investigate everything": The Birth of Modern Political Intelligence
Chapter 2. "Very full of the anti-war spirit": Fears of Enemy Subversion during World War I
Chapter 3. "Slackers, Delinquents, and Deserters": African Americans and Draft Enforcement during World War I
Chapter 4. "The most dangerous of all Negro journals": Federal Efforts to Silence the Chicago Defender
Chapter 5. "Every word is loaded with sedition": The Crisis and the NAACP under Suspicion
Chapter 6. "I thank my God for the persecution": The Church of God in Christ under Attack
Chapter 7. "Rabid and inflammatory": Further Attacks on the Pen and Pulpit
Chapter 8. "Spreading enemy propaganda": Alien Enemies, Spies, and Subversives
Chapter 9. "Perhaps you will be shot": Sex, Spies, Science, and the Moens Case
Chapter 10. "Negro Subversion": Army Intelligence Investigations during World War I
Epilogue: "The Negro is 'seeing red'": From the World War into the Red Scare