Black soldiers went on high-stakes strike in Pisgah Forest

“When blacks disobeyed orders, in contrast [to whites], they were punished severely. In July 1918, B company of the 328th Labor Battalion downed tools after cutting wood for several days without rations in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina. Two white officers, with one gun and 18 bullets, faced 300 disgruntled draftees.

“Excuses were later made for the officers’ incompetence, and the Camp Jackson, S.C., intelligence officer claimed that the trouble had been brewing for weeks and that the black NCOs were ineffectual. At the subsequent court-martial, the testimony of the black men was dismissed as ‘a mass of lies’ and three soldiers were sentenced to death for mutiny, later commuted to 10 years in prison.”

— From “Race, War and Surveillance: African Americans and the United States government during World War I” by Mark Ellis (2001)

Stu Lillard, a former UNC Charlotte and Queens librarian who now volunteers at the National Archives, is researching the dramatic but little-remembered Pisgah Forest Mutiny. Apparently the alleged ringleaders avoided death by firing squad only because the armistice had just ended hostilities in World War I.

To obtain more details — or to contribute your own — email Stu at