When black soldiers returned home from World War I, many of them went to battle on a different front, becoming the foot soldiers of the modern civil rights movement.
West Virginia University Reed College of Media associate professor Joel Beeson has spent the past decade researching the black experience in WWI. Now he will take his expertise to Washington, D.C., and speak to Congress about that time period in our Nation’s history and its similarities to the current racial climate in America.
Beeson is one of three professors in the country invited to the special briefing—the other two experts are from Emory University and New York University. The event is being held in honor of Black History Month and will take place February 25. Speakers will focus on the contributions that African Americans made during WWI.
Beeson says he is honored to talk to Congress about this topic because the past holds many valuable lessons for our country’s future.
“In recent years we have witnessed the rise of reactionary movements against immigrants and people of color, growing income inequality and the pressures of technological change,” said Beeson. “If we don’t learn from the past how social and economic distress served to divide us, we are bound to repeat this cycle.”
Beeson was asked to come to Washington at the special invitation of congressmen Charles Rangel, Sanford Bishop, Jr. and Emanuel Cleaver, as well as congresswoman Corrine Brown. The event is sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and is open to the public. It is in support of the World War I Commission, which will hold its U.S. Centennial Commemoration of WWI starting in 2017-2019.
Beeson has served as director of the West Virginia Veterans Oral History project for the Library of Congress. His current work in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is informed by two decades of research in race, representation and documentary studies. In 2014, Beeson launched the interactive website thebookofwarpoems.com, about the WWI-era experience of two young black sisters from rural West Virginia. He also produced and directed the 2008 documentary, “Fighting on Two Fronts: The Untold Stories of African American WWII Veterans.”
Beeson is currently leading a collaborative initiative with Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, a historically black urban institution, to develop a Social Justice Media Project. This collaboration resulted in BridgingSelma.com and the virtual reality app, Fractured Tour. Beeson is also a principal in the WVU Media Innovation Center’s AR/VR StoryLab.