150 African-American Iowans Honored in World War I Poster
Among the many artifacts included in the State Historical Museum of Iowa’s collection of World War I artifacts, a small poster entitled “The Roll of Honor” memorializes 150 African-American men from Iowa who risked their lives in service to their country.
The list is not all inclusive, but it offers clues about some of the many Iowa families who watched their sons march off to war. Most names on the list have been forgotten long ago, but a century later, census records, draft registration cards and articles from an Iowa-based, African-American newspaper called The Bystander provide a glimpse of the men and the lives they led before and after the war.
The men on the Roll of Honor came from all walks of life. Their ranks included miners, dentists, lawyers, railroad workers, an undertaker and even a baseball player. Several men trained to be officers at the U.S. Army’s Fort Des Moines — the country’s first training camp for African-American officers — while others were part of the military’s enlisted corps.
Each name on the Roll of Honor represents a story of a unique life and sacrifice; at least two of the men paid the ultimate price and were killed in action near the end of the war.
Here are just a few of the Roll of Honor stories:
Houston Hoover, a 29-year-old Perry man, was working as a general laborer for the Chicago, Minneapolis, and Saint Paul Railroad Company when he was drafted. Pvt. Hoover was killed in action on Nov. 11, 1918, only a few hours before the fighting ended. He is buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France.
Rufus B. Jackson, a 1914 graduate of East High School and student at Iowa State College, (now Iowa State University), enlisted in the army in June of 1917. He was promoted to second lieutenant less than a year later and received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action near Farm la Folie, France, on Sept. 28, 1918. The award states that having been ordered to use his Stokes mortars in wiping out machine gun nests that had been resisting the advance of his company, Lt. Jackson made a personal reconnaissance by crawling to the enemy’s lines to locate the nests. Accomplishing his purpose, he returned and directed the fire, silencing the guns. A few of Jackson’s letters home from the battlefield can be found in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s copies of The Bystander newspaper.
Walter L. Hutcherson, originally from Virginia, came to Iowa as a field agent for the Tuskegee Institute. He worked as the YMCA secretary in Buxton, Iowa, before leaving to serve as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He went on to work at YMCA facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma. The W.L. Hutcherson YMCA in Tulsa, Okla., bears his name.
Frank Blattner, from Oskaloosa, Iowa, made it to the rank of first sergeant. He was a baseball player for the All Nations team out of Kansas City at the time he was drafted. After serving in World War I, he returned home and played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League in 1921. He eventually left Iowa for Chicago, Illinois.
For more information about the men listed on the Roll of Honor, please contact the State Historical Museum of Iowa. Volunteers and staff researched the draft registration cards for these men and conducted additional research.
The list represents only a few of the sons, daughters, spouses, neighbors and friends from Iowa who served during World War I. However, their stories illustrate the service and sacrifice given by so many Iowans.
— Lois Crozier, volunteer, State Historical Society of Iowa