Duty and Dignity: Black Americans and the 92nd Infantry Division Buffalo Soldiers

Guiding Question:

Which liberties and freedoms did African Americans hope to secure in the United States by fighting in World War II?


The students will explore documents to understand the realities of segregation in the World War II era. They will explore Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and understand why so many men and women volunteered for service in the war. They will learn the story of the 92nd Infantry Division, one of only two African American divisions to serve in combat. Finally, they will design and construct a textbook feature page to explain the contributions of the 92nd Infantry Division to the war effort in Italy.


Historical Context

African American men had served in all American wars. After the Civil War, the 92nd Infantry Division was an African American unit sent west to fight Native Americans. Known as the Buffalo Soldiers, their emblem was a black buffalo on olive drab. They served in World War I, and the unit was re-activated during World War II. In a segregated military where white officers held rank over black soldiers, the 92nd Infantry Division went to great lengths to illustrate the bravery of African Americans in the time of greatest need for the United States.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Analyze social differences experienced between white and black Americans in the U.S. prior to World War II;
  • Recall the Four Freedoms and discuss the limitations on these freedom for African Americans;
  • Research the 92nd Infantry Division and its role in the Mediterranean Theater; and
  • Synthesize relevant facts to write an informational text.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures, or technical processes.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.13.9-12. Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Segregated America (30 Minutes)

  • Divide students into groups of six students each.
  • Distribute (or make available digitally) the Documents: Segregation in the United States (1938-1941) (one copy for each group).
  • Direct students to review and analyze the documents.
  • Once students have a chance to review the documents, ask them:
    • How were African Americans segregated socially?
    • How were African Americans segregated economically?
    • How were African Americans segregated legally?
  • Distribute the excerpt from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s January 6, 1941 Message to Congress (one per group). Read the excerpt with students, and ask the students to discuss the prompt in their groups and complete the chart.
    • Teacher Tip: If desired, audio or video clips of this speech could be used.
  • Ask students:
    • Based on the documents you reviewed, how would an African American man or woman view the Four Freedoms?
    • How would these reflect their experiences in the United States prior to World War II?
    • What promises might an African American infer from the Four Freedoms?

Activity Two: Creating a Textbook Feature Page / Research Phase (60 minutes)

  • Display a copy of a feature page from a history textbook.
  • Explain to students the following common elements of a feature page:
    • The page will often tell a story of a group traditionally left out of the narrative.
    • The page is brief and connects to the larger picture of U.S. history.
    • The page often includes an image or photograph.
    • The page is designed to engage the reader and encourage curiosity to learn more.
  • Divide students into groups of six students each. At teacher discretion, these can be the same students from the previous activity or the groups can be re-shuffled.
    • Teacher Tip: If a smaller group is desired, a teacher can eliminate some of the roles or allow students to choose their roles from the assignments given.
  • Distribute a copy of Creating a Textbook Feature Page to each student group.
  • Explain and review the roles with the students.
  • Allow each student to choose a role and begin research.
  • Circulate among students and monitor research.

Assessment Materials

Assessment: Creating a Textbook Feature Page / Creation Phase (45 minutes)

  • Review Creating a Textbook Feature Page Rubric with students.
  • Encourage students to work collectively to build their textbook feature page.
  • Circulate and assist students as needed.
  • Collect and display student work.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can explore the stories of other members of the 92nd Infantry Division by using the oral histories and collections digitized through the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
  • Students can contrast the experience of African Americans with those of Japanese Americans.
  • Students can construct a comparative timeline of the 92nd Infantry Division development from the many training facilities around the U.S. to their deployment from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in 1944.
  • Teachers can enhance students’ interest in African American soldiers in World War II by exploring these related lesson plans on


  • Teachers can adapt the lesson for students by projecting documents and student responses on a Smartboard.
  • Teachers can provide students with transcripts of the Veterans History Project audio narratives for students to read along as they listen.


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