Clearing A Path For Democracy: Citizen Soldiers of the Illinois Fighting 8th

Citizen soldiers have served their nation, their states, and their communities throughout American history. National guardsmen are the quintessential citizen soldiers, and the men of the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard demonstrated the best qualities of this segment of American society. This Illinois regiment was unique in American history. It was deployed in two foreign wars with a complete complement of African American officers. It was designated the 370th United States Infantry during World War I, and the regiment was awarded more citations than any other American regiment that fought along Europe’s Western Front.

This exhibition tells the story of this unique Illinois regiment in two parts. The first part focuses on the Chicago citizens who organized and led the Eighth Regiment and the accomplishments of the regiment before deploying to Europe during World Ward I. The second part focuses on the distinguished battle record of the regiment on the Western Front and the legacy of its soldiers and officers.

Curator Hari Jones stated, “The story of the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard reveals the political sophistication of Chicago’s African American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The community stood as a sterling example of what could be done despite racial discrimination.” He continued, “In a two-part exhibition, this story will be told, and this story is certain to challenge false images of Americans of African descent too often projected in the nation’s popular culture.”