A new interactive exhibit in West Virginia's Kimball War Memorial that extols the lives, and service, of Black soldiers during the First World War period was recently unveiled in Kimball.
In the 1920s, the building had been lobbied for by 1,500 African-American WWI veterans, many of whom had worked in local coalfields near the town of Kimball, when they saw that white former soldiers in another town had a memorial in their honor.
In 1928, the memorial was dedicated. No one knew that it would be country’s only memorial dedicated to Black World War I veterans, and eventually the nation's first all-Black American Legion Post.
The permanent interactive display, Forgotten Legacy: Soldiers of the Coalfields, was created by West Virginia University faculty and students. They spent four years researching, collecting material and developing a display “relating to Black World War I veterans, particularly those from West Virginia's southern coalfields.”
The exhibit focuses on coal and community, the pre–war lives of the enlisted men, their service in combat units and the socioeconomic climate the soldiers found when they returned. In the mid–2000s, the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D–W.Va., helped allocate money to have the building renovated.
Read more about Black soldiers in WWI, African-Americans in the U.S. Army and Black history at Arlington National Cemetery, A Chronology of African-American Military Service: From the Colonial Era Through the Antebellum Period.