Victory Monument, World War I Black Soldiers’ Memorial

Victory Monument, World War I Black Soldiers’ Memorial, 1927, 1936
Leonard Crunelle
East 35th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive

            When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the Army had a policy of racial segregation and African-American soldiers were required to serve in all-black regiments, typically under the command of white officers. The National Guard also had separate African-American units and, during the Great War, they were called up. Although the United States had no intention of using the black soldiers in combat, when French allies were in need of manpower they were happy to use them. This monument honors the 370th infantry of the 93rd Division, one of the units that assisted the French and included soldiers from Illinois. This group had the distinction of being the last regiment pursuing the retreating German forces in the Aisne-Marne region before the armistice on November 11, 1918.
            The sculptor, Leonard Crunelle, was well known in Chicago, having served as assistant to Lorado Taft and contributed the Fountain Figures and monument to Richard Oglesby to the city’s public art during the 1910s. 
          On an interesting note, he was born in the town of Lens, France, which fell under German control during the Great War. At the unveiling on Armistice Day in 1928, the monument consisted only of the white granite column with relief panels. The striding “doughboy,” also created by Crunelle, was added in 1936.
            One of the four bronze panels provides an honor roll of the dead, while the other three features figures: one is a bare-chested African-American soldier standing behind an eagle, the second is a classically-draped African-American woman representing “motherhood,” and the third features the allegorical figure “Columbia,” generally understood as the personification of the United States before “Lady Liberty” became more popular. “Columbia” holds a tablet listing the regiment’s battles. 

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