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Sat, 04.20.1918

The Home Guards of Minnesota is Formed

*On this date in 1918, the Minnesota Home Guard was formed. Formed in St. Paul, Minnesota, this was two all-Black Sixteenth Battalion Companies A and B. and C and D.

These Black men led by Cap Wigington met at the old state capitol building. Wigington became captain of Company A. Orrington C and gave an address; after the men were sworn in. Hall led Company B. On April 26, 1918, companies C and D formed in Minneapolis and were sworn in at city hall. Gale C. Hilyer led Company C and Charles Sumner Smith captained Company D. A medical corps headed by Dr. Valdo Turner formed. About five hundred men enlisted in the battalion overall, with Major Jose H. Sherwood in command. The Sixteenth also had a drum and bugle corps. They were led by Professor William H. Howard and the drum corps by Charles Miller.

The officers of the Sixteenth were all Black. Due to the poor treatment, they received when trying to enlist, they demanded that their officers be nonwhite. The Adjutant General’s office agreed, but some whites criticized the state government for allowing Blacks to become officers. After its formation the battalion became active.

Black Spanish American War veterans and ex-regulars began a schedule of training every week and ensured the battalion was well drilled. On Memorial Day in 1918, it marched in parades alongside all-white Home Guard units in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The men did not have uniforms at the time but wore white gloves. According to newspaper accounts, the battalion received special applause from the crowd. The Black community of the Twin Cities embraced the battalion. There were patriotic rallies and parades, and the battalion band became popular. It played at community events, dances, and battalion drills.

The Sixteenth escorted African American draftees to the train station. The battalion also provided a line of communication between the state government and the Black community. During the summer of 1918, the battalion experienced infighting. Some men felt they should be in charge because they had military experience, which most of the officers lacked. Many expressed a desire to leave the unit. Discipline was not maintained. Attendance suffered, but the battalion continued to host events. When World War I ended, Home Guard units began to muster out.

The Sixteenth continued to operate. Its band played concerts as late as February 1919. Determined to continue serving, leaders of the battalion pushed for the unit to be inducted into the Minnesota National Guard. On April 25, 1919, the Minnesota Legislature approved the formation of a separate battalion in addition to units of the Minnesota National Guard. This new unit was composed of the Sixteenth Battalion and was officially designated the First Infantry Battalion of the Minnesota Militia.

Some African American veterans returning from overseas joined the new unit. The Black men of this unit were not officially part of the Minnesota National Guard. Like the Sixteenth, it was a segregated unit.

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