Iowa History Daily: On October 15, 1917, 639 college graduates and Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Des Moines (No. 3) graduated training to become the first class of Black military officers in the United States Armed Forces. A barrier-breaking moment in America’s military history, the 17th Provisional Training Regiment at Fort Des Moines represented a major step forward for African-American leadership in the United States.
Up to the onset of the training at Fort Des Moines, three African-American officers previously completed training at West Point. However, when the class of 1,250 men drawn from colleges, universities, the 10th Cavalry, and the 24th Infantry came together on the southside of Iowa’s capital city to prepare for action overseas it marked an historic moment.
Although era newspapers relate racial anxiety present in the public as the group gathered in Des Moines, Camp Commander Colonel Charles Ballou held a public event to relieve tensions at Drake Stadium. Called the ‘White Sparrow Ceremony,’ over 10,000 Iowans attended a martial display featuring marching and singing.
Upon graduation, the 17th took charge of the 3rd Battalion, 92nd Division and found themselves transported to the battlefields of France to fight against Imperial Germany. Serving in many major engagements including the Battle of Metz, the ground-breaking regiment represented the first time an African-American regiment served in action under the command of Black officers. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar