Race, Gender, and Sexuality during the Second World War

My dissertation, “An Exceptional Situation:” Race, Sex, and the U.S. Army in Liberia, 1942-1946, examines the deployment of a predominantly Black American army unit to Liberia during the Second World War. The racial make-up of U.S. Army Forces in Liberia (UASFIL) coupled with the unique socio-racial landscape of the historic Black republic unsettled racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual “norms” and hierarchies both in the U.S. Army (particularly as they related to policies regarding segregation and sex) and Liberia. This created what USAFIL’s minority white leadership called “an exceptional situation.” Using this notion of “exceptionalism” as a heuristic lens, I analyze interactions between Black and white American soldiers and Liberian men and women relative to other contemporary civil-military contexts.

My dissertation demonstrates how competing imperial logics of race, gender, and sexuality shaped relations between American soldiers and Liberians during the war, as well as U.S. Army policies to police these. In doing so, my research provides an “exceptional” case study for rethinking power relations between militaries and societies, transnational racial, gender, and sexual politics, and race, nation, and empire more broadly.

“PFC. Napoleon Edward Taylor, first U.S. Engineer to land on Liberian soil, greets Liberian members of his race.” Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.