Rescued from the trash: Photo album of fascinating WWII portraits of African-American troops in Europe

Posted: April 18, 2014 in History

A Philadelphia woman has unearthed a family photo album filled with fascinating pictures of African American soldiers fighting during World War II.

While much attention is currently being devoted to the Tuskegee Airmen who are the subject of a new Hollywood movie called Red Tails, these photos show the plight of less-publicized groups of African American soldiers during the war.

The rare photographs give a glimpse into the military life of African Americans, whose lives on both the U.S. bases and the European front-lines were not as dutifully documented as their white counterparts.

Men at war: The uniforms and surroundings can are being used to try to identify the owner of the photo album which was found just before Christmas in a Pennsylvania garbage can

Men at war: The uniforms and surroundings can are being used to try to identify the owner of the photo album which was found just before Christmas in a Pennsylvania garbage can

Unidentified: This man appears the most in the photos, making historians believe that the album once belonged to him

Unidentified: This man appears the most in the photos, making historians believe that the album once belonged to him

During World War II, a number of regiments and battalions were made up solely of African Americans which was just another manifestation of the racism that existed across the country at the time.

Throughout the 1940s, as black soldiers were being sent across the Atlantic to fight on behalf of their country, they were not given the same rights as their fellow soldiers once they arrived back home.

Only in 1954 – nine years after World War II ended – did the Supreme Court make the landmark, long-awaited Brown versus Board of Education decision that stopped segregation in American schools.

The photos put a face on the struggles faced by those soldiers during the war because of their skin color, and because of the wide selection, shows how they fared once they got back home from war as well.

Work and play: This picture shows the men in the foreground relaxing while presumably taking time out to play baseball on an Army base given the Jeeps in the background

Work and play: This picture shows the men in the foreground relaxing while presumably taking time out to play baseball on an Army base given the Jeeps in the background

Sticking together:

Sticking together:

The sign in the picture on the left is the strongest clue so far about the identity of the soldiers, but they probably did not do too much shooting as the 389th Regiment was made up largely of skilled laborers

Deveta Johnson discovered the historic find covered in plastic grocery bags in a Norristown, Pennsylvania trash can.

The album holds black and white pictures of an unknown man in the mid-20th century, and like many during that time, World War II played a major role.

There are no captions to any of the pictures, and the album has no clear owner, so it has been up to Ms Johnson to figure out who the owner once was.

After finding the album just before Christmas, she took it home and discussed the find with her mother.

A few weeks later, she decided to turn it over to the Historical society of Montgomery County, thinking that they might have more experience identifying the people or places in the pictures.

Glimpse: Historians were thrilled with the find because it gives a picture of life both in and out of the military

Glimpse: Historians were thrilled with the find because it gives a picture of life both in and out of the military

Beginning in December 1943 and ending with the war in 1945, the 389th Regiment travelled to England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France

Beginning in December 1943 and ending with the war in 1945, the 389th Regiment travelled to England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France

Needless to say, the historians were thrilled to have a glimpse into the life of Pennsylvanians of yesteryear.

‘African American history has been for so many years neglected,’ Jeffrey R. McGranahan, the historical society’s collections manager, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

‘You really get the sense that these were real people who went places and had family gatherings.’

There are a few central characters in the photos, and they seem to be a man and his wife and children.

Piecing the clues together: Historians hope that viewers may recognize one or more of those pictured and help them in their effort to locate the family or move it to a more geographically appropriate library

Piecing the clues together: Historians hope that viewers may recognize one or more of those pictured and help them in their effort to locate the family or move it to a more geographically appropriate library

woman

Possible love interest: This woman appears in the photos a great deal as well

Possible love interest: This woman appears in the photos a great deal as well

America during wartime: Smiling kids at the soda fountain bring the viewer back stateside to the mid 1940s, showing what the era was like for those left at home

America during wartime: Smiling kids at the soda fountain bring the viewer back stateside to the mid 1940s, showing what the era was like for those left at home

Daily life is shown through the pictures of smiling children sitting on the stools at the soda counter, and a posed group shot of bundled-up girls braving the winter’s cold.

There are also a number of military-based shots, with pictures of the main subject and his friends playing baseball during some down time.

Another picture shows a group holding a sign for the 389th Regiment, giving inquisitive viewers their first clue of what role the man played in the war.

Life in the Army: Historians believe that the men pictured throughout the album were probably part of the 389th Regiment, which focused mostly on construction and skilled labor during their time in Europe

Life in the Army: Historians believe that the men pictured throughout the album were probably part of the 389th Regiment, which focused mostly on construction and skilled labor during their time in Europe

ponder

clue

Military: A man is pictured in a relaxed portrait on the left, and the photo on the right was the only one of the group to have writing, though the point of the message is unclear

That unit was segregated, similar to the one depicted in the movie Red Tails, and dedicated the majority of its time to skilled labor that was used to build bridges, railways and hospitals throughout Europe.

‘The general service regiments had more soldiers and less equipment, the theory being they would be more labor,’ Troy Morgan, an Army historian, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

‘It was not unusual to have a black regiment doing general service.’

Beginning in December 1943 and ending with the war in 1945, the 389th Regiment travelled to England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

Keeping warm in winter: The buildings in the background of this group of girls could potentially help locate where the main family lived at one point

Keeping warm in winter: The buildings in the background of this group of girls could potentially help locate where the main family lived at one point

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2094070/Rescued-trash-Photo-album-fascinating-WWII-portraits-African-American-troops-Europe.html#ixzz2zH2c58RR Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Comments
  1. Kim Braman says:

    Thank goodness this album was saved! I hate to see any pictoral history discarded.

    Like

  2. Linda Schreiber says:

    The whole series of photos are marvelous, and so much thanks to Ms Deveta Johnson, who rescued them, and then followed up to get them in good hands.
    It would be incredible if the family, and the men and women and children, could be identified, but even if this doesn’t happen, the light these shine on the history is priceless….
    Here’s hoping that much is learned, and that someday, connections can be made from the photos online. Even if just a yeehaw moment for a relative of one of the other men in one of these photos.

    Like

  3. M S Ingram says:

    What a great save! It warms my heart seeing heroes of color as well, thank you for your service, whoever you are.

    Like

  4. Joe Long says:

    “Hot Spot Here Boy, When Ice is on the Ground” says the photo message which the article says is “unclear”. The implication is that you can get warm there – I can’t tell what they’re standing on but I’ll bet it either has an engine or a generator.

    Like

  5. derick kamachi says:

    America the land of opportunity where every face in times of peril stand together to fight to preserve this ideology.some in support and some in combat.these segregationist. .effected all,Japanese Americans spanish Americans,German and Italian Americans..they showed that their blood ran red,white,and blue.

    Like

  6. bjdooley says:

    When American Southerners attempted to discriminate against Maori on the basis of color during WWII, it caused a major riot in New Zealand that was covered up for many years. It involved thousands. Some of this utterly reprehensible nonsense continues to this day..

    Like

  7. Casey B says:

    That one picture with the kids at the counter looks like Franklin Fountain on 2nd and Market street. Nice pics what a shame someone just tossed them in the trash.

    Like

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