World War I -- Life Histories/Section 018/Ernest B. McKissick

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Overview[edit]

Ernest B. McKissick (1895 - ? ) was a soldier in the 92nd Infantry Division in World War I.

Biography[edit]

Ernest B. (Mack) McKissick was born in Kelton, S.C. in 1895. His father was a minister. When he was about five years old, he and his family moved to Asheville, N.C. McKissick met his fiancé in Livingston, North Carolina while in college. When he was about twenty three years old, he became an American soldier fighting in the Great War. He was a part of the African-American 92nd Infantry Division that served in France during the war. Within the war, McKissick dealt with the difficulties that came with being an African American soldier during the early 1900s.

During his years in service, McKissick and his fiancé, Magnolia Thompson, remained together and in contact, exchanging many letters. The letters contained sentiments of love and nostalgia for home. McKissick often inquired into the well-being of family members, and the two shared jokes and romantic sentiments. When he returned from serving, he married Magnolia Thompson. Together, the couple had four children. One of their four children was Floyd S. McKissick. He became a civil rights leader, a businessman, and an important attorney in North Carolina. He was also the first African American to attend the Law School at the University of North Carolina. While living in Asheville, N.C., McKissick worked in the hotel business and with an insurance company. He was with the Veteran’s Administration, a business that supplied loans to veterans of the war. McKissick was at a hospital in Asheville when he died[1].

Social Issues[edit]

Racial Discrimination within the Army


During the time of World War I, racial segregation was still an issue in America. “No amount of education or ability could make a black man white; and so long as he was black he would be the odd man out in the U.S. Army no matter how able or educated he might be.” [2]. As an African American, McKissick dealt with and personally experienced the racism that permeated the army and draft. African American citizens were willing to serve but because of racism, many were not allowed to serve despite the need for soldiers. African American men desired to serve in the war in an attempt to prove their worth for equal treatment and their loyalty to the country.

During the war, black soldiers were separated into their own regiments and led by white officers. McKissick belonged to the 92nd Infantry Division. Particularly, his division was not remembered well in history despite their contributions in France: ““The division has no reputation except for failure. White Americans referred to its poor record. Black Americans spoke of racial prejudice as the source of the division’s ills.”[3]. The racial injustice interfered with being honestly remembered and superior performance for the black troops. However, according to newspapers printed at the time, the men of the 92nd Division served well. “Members of the 92nd Infantry Division wounded while fighting the Nazis in Italy get together at the U.S. General Hospital at Camp Pickett, Va., and recount their combat experiences… all of whom were wearers of the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge.”[4]. In another newspaper, in an article describing the division’s movement in France, the words of their colonel are quoted, saying that his was one of the “best damned outfits of its kind anywhere.”[5].

Despite these praises, not all branches of the military treated blacks equally. In the Navy and Coast Guard, they could only serve in demeaning, routine jobs and could not serve in the Navy at all. As described in The Unknown Soldiers, “Whatever practical reasons there may have been for skimping on the training of black working troops, whether lack of time, lack of officers, lack of officer interest, or lack of facilities, the underlying cause was army belief that the proper function of the black draftee was labor.”[6]. However, in the Army, though the regiments were separated, in The Last Buffalo, the issue of race is described as being set aside when the time came to fight: “White regiments, black regiments, regulars, and Rough Riders, representing the young manhood of the North and South fought shoulder to shoulder, unmindful of race or color, unmindful of whether commanded by an ex-Confederate or not.”[7].


Soldiers' Home-front Relationships

A large number of the soldiers that participated in the war were either married, engaged, or in a relationship. Especially for married men with wives and children, the possibility of being killed in battle and leaving their families without a provider was a very real fear for the men. Another fear for the men was that in their time of absence, their wives would not be faithful to them. In the extended period of time away from their husband, fiancé, or boyfriend, it was not uncommon for women to feel extreme loneliness with only letters received periodically to subdue their worry and missing. A study done in Britain during the time of the war showed that the tens of thousands of women left at home were encouraged by their local communities to form friendships with soldiers at the front by writing to them. These correspondences often led to marriage. However, some ended in separation or adultery. The paranoia that the men experienced along with the stress of warfare and an entirely new and alien environment. In the case of McKissick, he was away from his fiancé from early in 1918 into 1919. Often while writing, McKissick urged Magnolia to write to him more frequently. The lack of reliable reply from his fiancé made the sparse communication all the more anxiety inducing. Though McKissick and Magnolia were married upon his return from France, not all soldiers received the same welcome home from the wives they had left.[8]


References[edit]

Hogan, E. B. The Last Buffalo: Walter Potts and the 92nd "Buffalo" Division in World War I. Austin, Tex: Eakin, 2000. Print.

Barbeau, Arthur E., and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers; Black American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1974. Print.

Ferrell, Robert H. Unjustly Dishonored: An African American Division in World War I. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri, 2011. Print.

Johnson, Max. "92nd Infantry Division Now In Italy: Men Fighting With 5th Army." The Baltimore Afro- American 2 Sept. 1944: n. pag. Print.

"92nd Casualties Recall Experiences at Va. Hospital." The Baltimore Afro-American 5 May 1945: 7. Print.

"Ernest B. McKissick Papers, 1918-1991." Ernest B. McKissick Papers, 1918-1991. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/m/McKissick,Ernest_B.html>.

  1. "Ernest B. McKissick Papers, 1918-1991." Ernest B. McKissick Papers, 1918-1991. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/m/McKissick,Ernest_B.html>.
  2. Barbeau, Arthur E., and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers; Black American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1974. Print.
  3. Ferrell, Robert H. Unjustly Dishonored: An African American Division in World War I. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri, 2011. Print.
  4. "92nd Casualties Recall Experiences at Va. Hospital." The Baltimore Afro-American 5 May 1945: 7. Print.
  5. Johnson, Max. "92nd Infantry Division Now In Italy: Men Fighting With 5th Army." The Baltimore Afro-American 2 Sept. 1944: n. pag. Print.
  6. Barbeau, Arthur E., and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers; Black American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1974. Print.
  7. Hogan, E. B. The Last Buffalo: Walter Potts and the 92nd "Buffalo" Division in World War I. Austin, Tex: Eakin, 2000. Print.
  8. "WW1 Romances and the 'hasty Weddings' Scare." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war- one/10406047/WW1-romances-and-the-hasty-weddings-scare.html>.