Teacher Voice

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

Combination class activity using:
A Japanese American Family’s Experience During World War II: A Living DBQ and
Duty and Dignity: Black Americans and the 92nd Infantry Division Buffalo Soldiers

The primary sources on the Understanding Sacrifice website were excellent materials for this activity. The intent was for individual students in groups to do deeper research on how the Second World War impacted the lives of minority or specialty groups and then to creatively tell the story of the group.

The primary sources related to the Akimoto family made for dramatic interviews and reports. Students relayed the experiences of the family regarding internment and then the tragic outcomes of the deaths of the two Akimoto sons related to combat. It was a riveting reminder of the unique part that Japanese Americans played in this critical chapter of U.S. history and the strange, even ironic impact the war had on their lives then and in the years following. The students who read the letters and documents about what happened to the Akimoto sons were impressed with the determination they showed to prove their loyalty to America.

The primary sources related to the 92nd infantry served as both a window into the experience of African Americans during the conflict but also set up the Civil Rights unit which follows soon after World War II. It was easier to provide the background as to why the movement accelerated in the 1950’s in light of how African Americans were treated, their contribution to the war, and the moral argument that racism in America needed to be addressed because the war effort was in no small part an opposition to aggressive regimes in Germany and Japan whose racist philosophies were a key motivator in their aggression.

Trusting the students to examine first-hand the documents and then to plan and execute a radio broadcast encouraged them to work with the primary sources at a deeper level. The creativity necessary to convert the information into a news story or interview invested them more personally in the history. Vivid and riveting primary sources provide an unfiltered experience with history. In order for students to develop critical thinking and communication skills such independent and creative latitude is necessary.

While the activity on the Understanding Sacrifice website called for the creation of a skit for the Japanese American primary sources on the Akimoto family and a textbook feature page for the materials about the 92nd Infantry, I had my students create a World War II era radio broadcast on the same subjects using the materials provided from the webpage.

Procedural steps:
1) Students view images on projection of the eight minority or specialty groups associated with America and WWII.
2) With no explanation as to what the assignment will involve, students are asked to individually select a piece of paper with the corresponding color to the group which they feel intrigues them as they look at the image.
3) Students who select the same image are placed into a working group where they are provided with primary and secondary sources to examine which relates to their chosen minority or specialty group (i.e. Japanese Americans, Buffalo Soldiers, etc.).
4) Students then write a script for a WWII-era radio broadcast with a news report or interview about the selected group.
5) Students are required to include era music and an era-appropriate commercial to complement their story from World War II.
6) Students break out into hallways and record on a cell phone the radio broadcast.
7) After recordings the teacher gives a brief overview about how the war effort was so vast it affected all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender.
8) Radio broadcasts for each group are played as the entire class fills out a summary chart on each minority or specialty group.