World War I

It has been referred to as “the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century” (quoted by George Kennan). The Great War, as it was called then, began in Europe in 1914, but the U.S. did not become involved until President Woodrow Wilson signed the declaration of war on April 6, 1917. The U.S., although technically neutral, had been trading with Great Britain, which prompted the Allied powers of Great Britain, France, and Russia to consider the U.S. a “silent ally” before Americans ever entered the war officially. Germany, the leading power against the Allies, used their U-boats to attack all ships that came to the British Isles, including American and British cargo and passenger ships. President Wilson urged Congress to approve the war declaration by stating that “the world must be made safe for democracy.” In the end, WWI rearranged the structure of world power and spurred the U.S. into a new role as the dominant world leader.

WWI Sugar Propaganda

Louisiana's role grew during the war years as seen in this WWI propaganda poster. A large amount of American’s sugar was imported from overseas, but ships were now needed for soldiers and military supplies during the war. The poster encourages U.S. citizens to ration sugar by using Louisiana-made cane syrup as a sweetener. 

Many West Baton Rouge Parish residents showed themselves eager to participate in the war effort in any way they could. Addis was an important railroad town at the time, and troop trains moved through Addis for many weeks. Local citizens made a point of welcoming the men anytime these trains stopped, and girls dressed up as Red Cross nurses served them lemonade and cookies whenever possible. 

World War I, although a horrific catastrophe, directly spurred production in many areas, stimulating the economy in West Baton Rouge Parish. During the war, demand for food staples skyrocketed, and an economic boom swept the country. In Louisiana, the price of sugar more than doubled, while that of cotton tripled, making many plantation owners into wealthy men. 

In 1917, Allied manpower in France was diminishing and Russia was suffering from internal fighting, so it was necessary to send American troops to the battlefront as quickly as possible. Of the soldiers who registered at the West Baton Rouge Courthouse following the end of the war, 509 parish men served in the Army, 7 in the Marines, and 14 in the Navy. Approximately 50,000 American soldiers died in combat deaths—a great amount when considering the relatively short amount of time spent in Europe. Trench warfare and poisonous gases were introduced during this war. American troops helped turn the tide of the war, and the end came on November 11, 1918, now called Armistice Day.

Just over 13% of the American Armed Forces consisted of African Americans, with nearly all of them serving in the Army and a few in the Navy. Military units were racially segregated during WWI. For the most part, black soldiers and seaman were assigned to labor and transport positions as opposed to fighting on the front line. Of the soldiers who registered or were registered in West Baton Rouge, 336 were black and 143 were white.