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PAUSED: We Return Fighting

Please note that this exhibition is currently paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We Return Fighting : The African American Experience in World War I is a 4,200 sq. ft. temporary exhibition opening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on December 13, 2019. The exhibition has three sections, 26 themes, nine media pieces, a photography gallery, and an interactive element, anchored in nine African American historical luminary personalities. It interprets life experiences of African Americans during the World War I era (1913 to 1920). Though the foundation of the exhibition is the African American military experience from 1917 to 1919, it also offers a view of non-military experience focusing on the social, cultural, political, economic, and intellectual lives of African Americans before, during, and after World War I.

The exhibition immerses visitors into a conversation that examines what fighting in the first global war meant for African Americans. World War I was a transformative international conflict that had a significant impact on the nation and world. People were determined to change the pre-war status quo within their respective regions of the globe. For African Americans, WWI represented the next major opportunity to reassert post-Civil War expectations of full citizenship. They assumed that participating in a war to help make the world safe for democracy would in turn help them achieve their own level of fair representation. However, they returned to an unchanged America.

One of the significant themes of the exhibition, “Paris Noir,” highlights the impact of African American culture on French culture before and during, but mainly after, the war. Luminary and cultural entertainer Josephine Baker and personalities such as writer Langston Hughes and veteran Eugene J. Bullard are interpreted in this theme.