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McGuire Collection of Letters from Black Soldiers

Identifier: SC-MS-051

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of 109 photocopies of letters from Black soldiers during World War II. They were used in Dr. Phillip McGuire’s book, Taps for a Jim Crow Army, published in 1983. The letters contain the many maltreatments Black soldiers dealt with during their service, including the complaints they made and corresponding consequences they suffered for speaking out. Maltreatments included but were not limited to use of racial slurs, corporal punishment, inadequate medical aid, verbal abuse, inequitable hours, and threats of violence.


  • Creation: 1941-1946 (photocopies), 1983
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1941-1946 (photocopies)


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Copyright Statement

Copyright retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Historical Note

Dr. Phillip McGuire has drawn the following conclusions and comments in his book:

The soldiers' letters are their testaments to the impact of segregation and racial discrimination on the black experience during World War II. "According to their letters, black soldiers were humiliated, despised, denied regular army privileges, insulted by post commanders, subjected to military and civilan police brutality, accused of crimes they did not commit, constrained by traditional mores, unfairly discharged from military service, denied adequate medical services, court-martialled excessively, and denied adequate entertainment." Were black soldiers justified in their complaints? The rank and file soldier has always griped and complained about military life. Dr. Benjamin Quarles, an eminent black historian and scholar, noted in the forward of Dr. McGuire's book, "more often than not, their protent was overwhelmingly legitimate." Despite all the negative, blacks have traditionally viewed military service as an opportunity for upward mobility. According to Dr. Quarles blacks viewed a war as a catalyst for a better day, with racial stereotypes and taboos on the run. These soldiers viewed their letters as constructive, not in any way subversive. Black soldiers felt that they had a stake in the war and in numerous letters, though they complained, black soldiers expressed loyalty to America and the ideals for which it stood.

These letters are characterized by their bluntness and are outspoken and frank. They were written with a purpose to people in high places that could change the lot of the black soldier. Many letters were sent to the black press to make the public aware of conditions in the military. Recipients of these letters were urged to see for themselves whether or not their complaints and grievances were just.

All of the letters in this collection came from the civilian aid to the Secretary of War, housed within the records of the assistant Secretary of War at the National Archives located in Washington D.C. Dr. McGuire discovered them shortly after the documents were declassified in 1980. The letters were left in their original form in an attempt to preserve their authenticity and flavor. This will account for the inaccuracies in grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, structure, and style.

Note written by Lana Donaldson Taylor


2 Containers (Contains 2 document boxes.)

Language of Materials


Acquisition Information

This collection was donated by Dr. Phillip McGuire on October 22, 1987.

Related Materials

Taps for Jim Crow Army, by Phillip McGuire;

Processing Information

Originally processed by Lana Donaldson Taylor in 1988. In 2015, this manuscript collection was re-housed and consolidated with current archival standard materials by Maya Rodgers.

McGuire Collection of Letters from Black Soldiers
Lana Donaldson Taylor
1988 January 19
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository