In World War I, African-American soldiers fought in segregated regiments. Many African-Americans saw the war as a chance to promote racial equality, while some leaders, such as A. Philip Randolph, urged African-Americans to resist the draft, as they thought it was hypocritical to ask people who were treated as second-class citizens to serve in the army. However, many African-Americans believed that their military service would cause the government to grant them civil rights. Over one million African-Americans responded to the draft in 1917, and about 370,000 African-American men were drafted into the U.S. military.
African-Americans faced a great deal of racism and racial violence during World War I. Many went north to serve in defense plants as part of the Great Migration. In cities such as St. Louis, they faced violence. In East St. Louis in 1917, a race riot resulted in the deaths of 125 African-Americans. In Houston, African-American soldiers who were tired of racial prejudice from members of the city and the police marched on the city, and 16 whites and 4 blacks died. As a result, the military decided to try to station black soldiers outside the south.
While there were a few combat divisions for African-Americans, many served in service units rather than in fighting units. They were often stevedores, unloading military ships. In general, African-American soldiers had inferior materials and supplies and faced racial prejudice, though they were often rewarded when they fought in France. For example, the "Harlem Hellfighters," a division that included many famous musicians, won awards fighting in France, including the Croix de Guerre. About 200,000 African-American troops fought in France. Their service was another milestone in the Civil Rights movement, and they were broadened by fighting in Europe and other places in the United States.