Charlotte, NC painter Romare Bearden (in a 1944 Carl Van Vechten photograph) joined the United States Army in 1942 and served until 1945 in the all-black 372nd Infantry Division of the 15th Regiment. His entire tour of duty was spent in the United States at various locations, including at the Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) at Camp Davis, NC. He traveled to Europe in 1950 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under the auspices of the GI Bill.
Segregation in the United States armed forces during World War II was often felt more at home, the battle field providing at least the commonality of shared danger. However, on the American bases the racial attitudes of the times prevailed, even at OCS. At parades, church services, in transportation and canteens the races were kept separate. Further, the black OCS candidates were housed separately and were not allowed to eat with the white candidates, regardless of the logistical absurdities that this often created. Beyond all this, black soldiers often could not safely leave their bases because of the hostility they encountered in the surrounding communities, especially in the South.
Bearden felt that dichotomy keenly. For him, there was further irony in that the art scene during the war years welcomed black artists as peers. He welcomed his return in 1945 to the artistic community in New York City.
(More about the rest of Bearden's life here, both before and after his service.)
Works from the Museum's collection by artists influenced by the Harlem Renaissance movement were exhibited at HMA between February 6 and April 17, 2016. Artists included Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Sharif Bey, Juie Rattley III, Kara Walker and more. (Links connect to HMA blog posts about each artist.)
Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.
The material was prepared for HMA's 2014 celebration of HMA's 75th year. Romare Bearden was one of HMA's artists who served in WWII.