Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Segregated service & respect for the Richmond men

One of my stops in the Chariton Cemetery late Sunday was at a family lot in the far northwest corner to pay respects at the graves of the Richmond men --- John, Henry, Maceo, Thomas and Booker, sons of Romulus R. and Lillie, all buried behind military tombstones, all with flags flying. 

This is the family lot in the cemetery that contains the most veteran graves; two of the Richmond brothers were World War I veterans; three, World War II veterans. All served their country with honor in segregated blacks-only units.

There were no other options at the time; President Truman did not order an end to segregation in the U.S. military until 1948 and even then, remnants of the old ways continued into the Korean War.


Maceo A. was, by rank, senior here. Born in Chariton on March 14, 1896, he graduated from Chariton High School in 1914 as both an academic and athletic standout, then went on to study and play football at Des Moines College, a small Baptist-affiliated school.

Maceo completed his junior year at DMC, but the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and later that spring Maceo enlisted in the U.S. Army and won a place in the 17th Provisional Training Regiment, the first officer candidate class of African-Americans in U.S. military history.

He was among some 1,250 candidates who trained that year at Fort Des Moines and after graduation and commissioning in October was assigned to the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division, a segregated unit then organizing at Camp Dodge. This was one of the few black U.S. military units commanded by black officers, Maceo among them.

A member of Company H, Maceo set sail with his unit from Hoboken aboard the Vauban on June 14, 1918, and upon reaching France served with valor in the St. Die Sector (Lorraine) during August and September; the Meuse Argonne Campaign in September-October; and in the Marbach Sector (Lorraine) from October until war's end.

The 366th sailed for home from Brest aboard the Aquitania on Feb. 22, 1919, and Maceo was honorably discharged on April 23. There was no future in the U.S. military at the time for a black officer.


Maceo's older brother, John R., born June 19, 1884, in Wisconsin before the family moved to Chariton, also was educated in Lucas County but was working in Detroit when World War I was declared. He signed up there and was assigned to Co. I, 372nd Infantry, 93rd Division, an all-black unit with white officers organized during January of 1918 at Camp Stuart, Virginia.

The 372nd sailed for France during March of 1918 and was placed under the command of the 157th "Red Hand" Division of the French Army. The French had no interest in the racist practices of the U.S. military and the 372nd became a highly decorated unit of the 157th, fighting on the Western Front in the Champagne region, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and in the Vosges Mountains as the war wound down.

John, gassed and wounded in combat, returned to the United States with the rank of corporal during February of 1919 and was demobilized with his unit on Feb. 28 at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. Service-related injuries would plague him for the remainder of his life.

As a rule, black men who volunteered or were drafted into service during World War I were assigned to support units to perform menial jobs. Maceo and John, as combat veterans, were exceptions.


By the time World War II was declared, Jim Crow had embedded itself even deeper in the heart of America and while it was agreed that black personnel were needed in support roles, a combination of politics and prejudice kept these men out of combat roles and for the most part in segregated support units. In Iowa, the "negro draft" was a separate operation.

Booker T., the youngest Richmond son (born in Chariton on Oct. 5, 1904), another academic and athletic standout at Chariton High School, was by 1942 a Des Moines attorney, practicing in a community that had relatively few black professional role models.

He was drafted on Sept. 8, 1942, assigned to the 445th Signal Battalion (heavy construction) and deployed to California where he served until March 26, 1945, when he was honorably discharged at Tech 4th grade while assigned to Headquarters, 9th Service Command.

Thomas E. Richmond, born in Chariton on 9 January 1902, was drafted on Oct. 14, 1942, assigned to the 276th Quartermaster Battalion and then to Headquarters Detachment 541st Quartermaster Battalion, and like his brother deployed to California. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on Nov. 4, 1944.

Henry G. Richmond, born Nov. 21, 1899, was drafted Oct. 16, 1942, A mechanic by trade, he was assigned to the 4382 Quartermaster Truck Brigade, 41st Reinforcement Battalion, and deployed to Europe where he drove truck in highly challenging and dangerous conditions in North Africa, France and Germany.

He was honorably discharged during July of 1945 with the rank of sergeant.


John was the first of the Richmond men to pass. He returned after the war to live and work in Detroit, then moved to Chicago, but was increasingly plagued by service-connected disability. He died of throat cancer on Sept. 24, 1932, at Chicago's Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Hospital. His remains were brought home to Chariton for burial on the family lot.

Henry Richmond was visiting his brother, Scott, in Aurora, Illinois, just months after his discharge when he was struck by a speeding car while crossing a street on Jan. 18, 1946. The youthful driver told authorities he had been blinded by the lights of an oncoming vehicle, so no charges were filed. Henry sustained serious head injuries as well as two broken legs and died a few hours later. His remains, too, were brought home to Chariton for burial.

Maceo was a roamer and a rambler who never managed to settle down. After World War I, he homesteaded in Alaska, worked as a florist in New Jersey and held various jobs in the Chicago area before returning finally to live in Chariton with a sister and brother. His body was found along the Burlington Route railroad tracks in east Chariton on Feb 8, 1954, and a coroner's jury ruled that he had died of natural causes. He was nearly 58.

Thomas Richmond returned to Chariton after World War II to live with his mother and sister and became a member of Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102, American Legion. He died Sept. 3, 1957, at Veterans Hospital in Des Moines, age 55, and was buried near his brothers.

Booker T. returned to his Des Moines law practice after the war. He had just returned home to Des Moines on Sept. 8, 1957, after handling arrangements for his brother, Thomas, when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the Des Moines Veterans Hospital on Sept. 9. He was the last of the seven Richmond sons, five of whom had served their country.

The sole survivor of his large family was Florence "Petey" Richmond who continued to live in the family home on South 11th Street until her death at age 85 on Sept. 17, 1979. Hers was the final burial on the Richmond lot and, after her death, a military stone identifying her as "sister" was acquired and installed to mark her grave among those of her brothers.

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