The standard volunteer system proved to be inadequate in raising an Army, so on Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for the draft.Even before the act was passed, African American males from all over the country eagerly joined the war effort.Now instead of turning blacks away, the draft boards were doing all they could to bring them into service, southern draft boards in particular.
Most leaders of the African American community agreed, and it was decided that the Army would create a segregated, but supposedly equal, officer training camp.Some were completely segregated and others allowed for blacks and whites to train together.Over 700 additional black officers graduated from these camps, bringing the total number to 1,353.Blacks could not serve in the Marines, and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard. There was such a backlash from the African American community, however, that the War Department finally created the 92d and 93d Divisions, both primarily black combat units, in 1917.By the end of World War I, African Americans served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers. With the creation of African American units also came the demand for African-American officers.Yet despite that, there were many African American men willing to serve in the nation’s military, but even as it became apparent that the United States would enter the war in Europe, blacks were still being turned away from military service.When the United States declared war against Germany in April of 1917, War Department planners quickly realized that the standing Army of 126,000 men would not be enough to ensure victory overseas.Within one week of Wilson’s declaration of war, the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers because the quotas for African Americans were filled.When it came to the draft, however, there was a reversal in usual discriminatory policy. Although there were no specific segregation provisions outlined in the draft legislation, blacks were told to tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separately.They viewed the conflict as an opportunity to prove their loyalty, patriotism, and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States.Following the Civil War, the Army disbanded volunteer “colored” regiments, and established six Regular Army regiments of black troops with white officers.