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Lieutenant from the Talented Tenth

Lieutenant from the Talented Tenth

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth...
- W.E.B. Dubois, September 1903
Lt. Thomas J. Bullock, of Wilmington, circa 1917. 
Property State Archives of North Carolina.

Approximately 350,000 African Americans served in World War I. Due to the racial hatred, and discriminatory attitudes, their tour of duty was a very different experience than that of white soldiers. The military leaders felt African American were inferior and intellectually incapable. Thus, African Americans were relegated to labor intense inferior positions.

About 22,000 of these soldiers came from North Carolina including Thomas J. Bullock. Thomas J. Bullock, of Henderson NC, was one of the first African American Soldiers to receive a commission.

After a military career that included service in the war with Spain, and the 25th Infantry Regiment in the Philippines, Bullock enrolled at Lincoln University and graduated in 1911. He worked as an educator for five years but returned to service during rising tensions with Mexico. He joined

Company M of the 15th Regiment New York National Guard in October 1916. When the war broke out in 1917, Bullock’s military experience and advanced education made him a prime candidate for the first and only World War I cycle of officer candidate school for African American soldiers. Sergeant Bullock was one of 1,250 African Americans who began the class and came out in the top ten percent of the 650 who ultimately graduated and received commissions.


Bullock, now a 2nd Lieutenant decided not to return to the famed 369th Infantry, aka, “Harlem Hellfighters.” Instead, he reported to the 367th Infantry of the 92nd Division. The Division received advanced training in Bourbonne-Les-Bains, France, and later relieved American and French troops in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges towards the end of August. When they arrived, the 92nd and thirteen companies took up a position in the front-line trenches to hold the line against the Germans angry at the recent loss of Frapelle.

The officers of the 367th Infantry on September 4, 1918, minus Lieutenant Bullock,
who was killed in action two days before this photo was taken. Property National Archives.

On September 1, the Germans advanced upon the portion of the line held by the 367th. Bombarding the 92nd Division with mustard gas and shells. The Germans were beaten again by the American troops but the following morning, 34 African American soldiers were wounded, and 4 were dead including Lieutenant Bullock. He was the division’s first officer killed in combat. He was forty years old. Lieutenant Bullock was buried in La Chappelle, but in 1921, his family had his remains moved to his home to Wilmington where he’s buried beside his wife, Cleopatra. and his father in law George Cleapor in the Pine Forest Cemetery.

At the age of six, living in Chicago, Illinois, I saw Paris and San Francisco for the first time between the pages of my World Book Encyclopedias. That began my love affair with books and magazines. It also led me to declare that when I grew up I would live in San Francisco and Paris. While most of us never get to achieve our childhood dreams, I have been able to do so. I've lived in San Francisco since 1984 and got my first apartment in Paris in 2001. For nearly 18 years I have traveled between my two favorite cities on earth, while I enjoy a life of writing, coaching, and speaking. Life for me is a banquet and I am savoring every moment!

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