By JUSTIN WM. MOYER
THE WASHINGTON POST • January 15, 2023
About two weeks after the end of World War II in Europe, French women were serving U.S. soldiers coffee and doughnuts in a Red Cross tent in France. Two Black soldiers went inside to get some.
This was a breach of norms: In a segregated Army, many white American soldiers did not want Black men talking to French women.
The Black soldiers — Allen Leftridge and Frank Glenn — were challenged by a white sergeant, according to a witness. When a white armed guard arrived, he fatally shot the two men. A third soldier — a white man just released from a German prison camp who was not named in documents related to the incident — was caught in the crossfire and killed, a newspaper from the time reported.
These deaths, briefly touched upon in a 1984 oral history, were not widely chronicled at the time beyond Black publications. Documents in the Library of Congress archives — including pleas from civil rights advocates and responses from military officials — reveal details of the case and further evidence of how white U.S. soldiers fighting fascism abroad brought racism overseas. The consequences were fatal — and some victims of racial violence were robbed of compensation.
Two white soldiers were acquitted in a court-martial over the deadly incident. Leftridge’s widow was denied military benefits because her husband’s death was ruled not in the line of duty “due to his own misconduct.”
“They weren’t breaking a law — unless there’s a law against being a Negro soldier,” a legal advocate for the slain Black soldiers wrote in 1946. “They were visiting a Red Cross tent — on the post on which they were stationed — and were shot down by trigger-happy guards who had prejudice[d] orders not to allow Negro soldiers to talk to French women.”
“That’s not how people think about World War II,” said Matthew F. Delmont, Dartmouth University history professor and the author of a book about African American troops in World War II. “Incidents like these between Black and white troops really spotlight that things were not unified in any real way.”