"Smoked Yankees" and the Struggle for Empire


Letters from Negro Soldiers, 1898–1902
Willard B. Gatewood, Jr.
978-0-938626-88-6 (paper)
July 1987


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Called upon for the first time to render military service outside the States, Negro soldiers (called Smoked Yankees by the Spaniards) were eager to improve their status at home by fighting for the white man in the Spanish-American War. Their story is told through countless letters sent to black U.S. newspapers that lacked resources to field their own reporters. The collection constitutes a remarkably complete and otherwise undisclosed amount of the black man’s role in—and attitude toward—America’s struggle for empire.

In first-hand reports of battles in the Philippine Islands and Cuba, Negro soldiers wrote from the perspective of dispossessed citizens struggling to obtain a larger share of the rights and privileges of Americans.

These letters provide a fuller understanding of the exploits of black troops through their reports of military activities and accounts of foreign peoples and its cultures.

Willard B. Gatewood, Jr. is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas and author of numerous books and articles.

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