OHIO VALLEY — It has been 100 years since the United States entered World War I and there are stories that still connect the Ohio Valley to that not so distant past.
The Ohio World War I Centennial Commission urges area teachers to consider looking back to Gallia’s past, towards an African American World War I veteran with African American History Month at hand and the 100th year remembrance of the US entering World War I.
According to commission member and retired history teacher from Washington Courthouse Paul LaRue, Private Charles Emerson, originally of Gallipolis, served as one of the roughly 400,000 African American men, nationwide, who served in the military as part of the World War I conflict. Emerson was born in 1889.
“Because of institutional racism and the segregation of the time, about 85 percent of the African American (veterans) were in the labor regiments,” said LaRue. “There were combat soldiers. Emerson ended up in the 317 Engineer Regiment. He ended up in France like a lot of these guys. He was killed in an accident in the line of duty.”
LaRue said many of the labor regiments were responsible for moving equipment as well as digging trenches and the like.
Emerson was killed August 13, 1918. Ohio rosters list Emerson as having died in a fall in the line of duty. Emerson is still buried in France.
LaRue said around 263,000 soldiers from Ohio took part in World War I.
With the upcoming 100th year memorial of the US entering the war approaching April 6, the Ohio World War I Centennial Commission in collaboration with the Ohio History Connection is urging area teachers to look into lesson plans developed by commission members for their history lessons. According to LaRue, as a writer of the lessons, the content is free and may be used for such occasions as Veterans Day, Black History Month or as a “blizzard bag” assignment as well.
April 6 will kickoff national centennial commemoration efforts as the US part in World War I started April 6, 1917. The “Great War,” as historians have often called World War I, was recognized to be triggered June 28, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
“It’s been a 100 years since the United States entered the war,” said LaRue. “The real commemoration will be starting. With Black History Month, we wanted to get the world out that there are resources out here that deal with diversity and make up some interesting stories.”
For educators interested, materials can be found at www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/African-Am-Labor-for-Victory-Lesson-Plan.pdf and www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Searching-for-Homer-Lawson-Lesson-Plan.pdf.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.