The Kimball War Memorial for African-American WWI veterans is first and surviving structure of its kind

Michael Eli Dokosi Feb 26, 2020 at 01:00pm

February 26, 2020 at 01:00 pm | History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

February 26, 2020 at 01:00 pm | History

Kimball World War I Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

The Kimball War I Memorial in McDowell County stands as a memorial in honor of the over 350, 000 African-Americans veterans who served in segregated units during World War I, mostly as support troops.

It is the first building in the country erected to honor African-Americans who fought in World War I. The men who distinguished themselves served in several units during the war fighting alongside French soldiers who together took on the Germans. So brilliant were the Blacks that 171 African-Americans were awarded the French Legion of Honor.

A relatively small number but nonetheless significant when compared to the over 4.7 million men and women who served in the regular U.S. forces, national guard units, and draft units of which about 2.8 million served overseas.

That war claimed the lives of 53,402 in action while deaths from disease and other causes claimed 63,114, lives with about 205,000 wounded.

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Given that America’s entry into World War I in 1917 marked the beginning of its path to becoming a world power, the Kimball War Memorial takes on even bigger relevance considering Blacks were deemed not fit to fight alongside their white counterparts despite the evidence proving otherwise.

The War Memorial also became home to the country’s first all-black American Legion Post, named for Luther Patterson, one of the first African-American casualties of the war. The building also hosted some of the state’s first NAACP meetings.

Originally, the Kimball War I Memorial housed an auditorium with a small stage, a library, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, a billiard room and a trophy room, with displays of plaques dedicated to veterans, and wartime memorabilia. It was a multi-purpose facility, hosting high school proms as well as wedding reception.

Kimball World War I Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

Designed by architect Hassel T. Hicks of Welch, the memorial was dedicated in 1928. The two-storey brick structure is Classical Revival in style, with a massive two-storey Roman Doric portico on the front facade. The building also served as a social, recreational, and cultural center for black and white residents alike.

As mining jobs disappeared and McDowell’s population declined, however, the building fell into disrepair for about a decade. In 1991, it was gutted by fire promoting a citizens group to take charge of its maintenance. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

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Soldiers from the 369th Infantry Regiment (15th N.Y.), also known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” who earned the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It presently serves as a living community resource and is available for a wide variety of functions, including tours, training sessions, classes, organizational meetings, organizational dinners and receptions as well as social events. It is regarded as the only such memorial remaining.

The memorial was the recipient of a 2007 Honor Award presented by the West Virginia Chapter of the America Institute of Architects and was also featured in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s forum as a Preservation Solution. The Memorial was also honored in 2006 with a Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust Award.

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