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Summer Research Spotlight: African American Military Service in WWII

The URGO Summer Research Program is an 11-week, on-campus program where students are funded to conduct research with a faculty mentor. Students receive support throughout the research process from their faculty mentor, a Speaker Series, and weekly seminars with fellow researchers.

Grant Berg, a Pre-law Political Science and History double-major with a minor in Communication Studies, conducted research with Dr. Michael Lansing in the summer of ‘17. Dr. Lansing and Berg looked into the history of the St. Paul Rondo community during the early to late 1940’s and the African American men and women who served in the armed forces. Grant shares his summer research experience below.

My research was initially going to focus only on the Montford Point Marines, the first black Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officers that were recruited for WWII. This piqued my interest especially because the Marine Corps had a 200-year ban on African American men from joining the program. Other branches of the armed forces also blocked African American men from combat roles. To broaden the scope of the research, my mentor Dr. Michael Lansing, chair of the Department of History here at Augsburg, suggested we look more into every branch of the military at the time, and to narrow the research to the St. Paul Rondo community. That gave me the amazing opportunity to go into the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society and examine the oral histories of black veterans from the community who either grew up or lived in the Rondo community.

I stumbled upon many interesting finds in the piles, such as correspondence between a Minneapolis military chaplain, turned civilian pastor, and a young U.S. House representative from Texas named Lyndon B. Johnson. Other finds were the seemingly forgotten effort by the Navy and Army Surgeon General to impose a rule against black people from donating blood for the war effort. This was called out by the African American press, who utilized science to disprove the argument that black blood and white blood could not be mixed.

Because racial bias and discrimination drive many current issues, we have to talk about and preserve this nation’s history when it comes to minority groups and their push for basic freedoms that other citizens enjoy. 

Throughout this experience I learned how to be a more informed leader about the communities around me, how the historical injustices of the past directly impact us today, and how to use historical knowledge to change things today. Through this I can be a better student here at Augsburg as well as a better ally to those struggling for justice.

Grant Berg is an honors student who takes pride in cultivating a productive campus environment through community service and political activism. Grant is currently Honors House Hesser co-president, and an intern with the Amy Klobuchar for Minnesota re-election campaign.

The information packet and application for URGO Summer Research are now posted on the URGO website. Now is the time to get started!

If you have any questions about the research program or the application, please contact us at urgo@augsburg.edu.