Equal Opportunities for Sacrifice in World War II

Guiding Question:

Why was the U.S. military reluctant to use more African-American soldiers in combat alongside white soldiers? How and why did the policy change as the war progressed?


Students will read primary source articles from the Chicago Tribune archives from 1945, and a secondary source reading about the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Both readings discuss the role of African-American soldiers during World War II. Students will answer guided reading questions to go along with the readings and then write a comparative piece synthesizing what they have learned from the sources.


Historical Context

As the Allies advanced into Germany during World War II, their objectives included taking over towns and cities and keeping up the advance to Berlin. The 1st Infantry Division had participated in many engagements during the war, including North Africa, Sicily and D-Day, as well as the battles for Normandy, Aachen, Germany, the Huertgen Forest, and the Battle of the Bulge. By March 1945, as the Allies continued their march into the heart of Germany and crossed the Rhine River at the Remagen bridgehead, many combat units required replacements to remain effective. The 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division is one such example. Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery is the final resting place for many men, like Private First Class Edward E. Elewicz, who gave their life fighting to cross the Rhine into Germany.

As a result of a loss of soldiers, the 18th Infantry Regiment allowed African Americans to fight alongside their regular units in Germany, a change in the military’s policy towards African-American soldiers serving in combat units. Some of the African-American officers gave up their commissions to serve in the infantry.


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

  • Analyze and evaluate the contributions of some African-American soldiers during World War II;
  • Sequence important events in Europe leading to the defeat of Germany in World War II;
  • Compare and contrast primary and secondary accounts of African-Americans fighting in World War II; and
  • Draw conclusions about why the Allies were able to defeat Germany during World War II.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources

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.2.9-12 Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.
D2.His.8.9-12 Analyze how current interpretations of the past are limited by the extent to which available historical sources represent perspectives of people at the time.
D2.His.9.9-12 Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
D2.His.11.9-12 Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.
D2.His.13.9-12 Critique the appropriateness of the historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.
D2.His.14.9-12 Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.
D2.His.16.9-12 Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: The Need for Replacement Soldiers (45 minutes)

  • Display the World War II Interactive Timeline from January to March 1945.
  • Ask students to reflect on the following in their notebooks: What challenges did the Allies face as they fought in Germany during 1945? How do you think that contrasted earlier battles between Germany and the Allies?
    • Lead class discussion on several student responses.
  • Review Private Edward Elewicz’s fallen hero profile and ask students to reflect on the following: What challenges did replacement soldiers have during World War II? Why were they needed? What does it mean to sacrifice during wartime?
    • Lead class discussion on several student responses.

Activity Two: Equal Opportunities for Sacrifice (45 minutes)

  • Divide students into groups of three to four students each and outline the roles that each person in each group will perform (recorder, reporter, timekeeper, and clarifier.)
  • Assign each group a section of the Equal Opportunities for Sacrifice in World War II Guided Discussion Questions. Assign the groups to read the three articles. At teacher discretion, all students could read all articles or the groups can be assigned different ones.
    • Circulate around the room to monitor and assist the students while they work on their part of the guided discussion assignment.
    • Students will each read their part, mark the text, and complete the guided discussion questions on their part. Each student will have his or her own written responses.
  • Rearrange the seating in a circle for the whole class to share out and discuss.
  • Each group’s reporter will share out their responses to the questions from their reading. For those questions involving students’ opinions, the teacher should encourage several responses to be shared.

Assessment Materials

  • Distribute the writing prompt and clarify any questions: In at least ten sentences, and a well-organized paragraph, compare and contrast the primary and secondary source readings about African-American soldiers during World War II. In your discussion include ALL of the following: motives for African Americans to want to fight; what African Americans had to sacrifice in agreeing to fight; why the U.S. Army decided to change its policy; and how African Americans performed once they entered combat.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can write a complete essay with an evaluation of the sources along with their analysis of the role of African Americans in World War II.
  • Students can research southern newspapers to see how integration was covered at this time.
  • Students can research and report on African Americans’ experiences fighting during World War II.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.


  • Students can work individually on the readings and discussion questions, then discuss their answers with a partner or the whole class.
  • Teachers can shorten or annotate the readings (especially the secondary source excerpt) as needed.
  • Teachers can enlarge the text of the reading to allow the students to see it better.
  • Teachers can have the students use the original text of the newspaper readings online to include a technology component in the lesson.
  • Students can be given a shorter writing assignment than the ten-sentence requirement. Teachers can reduce the parts of the writing assignment for them, and alter the rubric to show this change.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources