Ralph Waldo Tyler was the only black war correspondent during the Great War. He spent his entire time alongside black soldiers as they fought their way through France and on their way to Germany. I compiled some tweets from some of his final correspondents at the end of the war. The dates do not align correctly because the war ended in November. Here are some of Tyler’s own words from the end of the war:
Not all of the tweets are exact as Tyler had originally wrote because I had to make them all fit into Twitter word count limit. However, that is precisely where this project becomes interesting. How would reporters have used Twitter a hundred years ago? I would assume they would use it the exact same way as they do today. So when I had to shorten some words or omit characters I would like to think that Tyler would have done the same with his own words.
I chose to tweet out Tyler’s reports because it is a part of my research for my thesis on black officers during the Great War. Seeing how Tyler was the only black war correspondent it makes for one interesting story. Every report he sent back home had to go through a rigorous government approval process and at the end many of his works were shortened or censored. Throughout the war black soldiers were not fully recognized for their gallant efforts on the battlefield. Those who served next to them understood how hard they fought, but for the military as a whole many did not accept the fact that black soldiers could be effective on the battlefield. With little coverage by the media, besides Mr. Tyler’s reports, the news of black soldiers fighting was not common, thus the recognition was not there either.
If Tyler had twitter at the time of these events, as he watched firsthand blacks fighting courageously on the battlefield, he could have live tweeted everything he saw. Maybe a different story would have been depicted as news of blacks actually fighting would have spread back home. Maybe white soldiers would have had different views of their fellow black fighters. The democracy and freedom blacks were fighting for may have been received differently and a whole string of events may have been played out differently. No riots, lynching, or massive Red Scare. Quite possibly the Civil Rights Movement may have came fifty years earlier. The power of social media and especially Twitter is endless. We saw this with the Arab Spring a few years ago and the live tweeting of the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Additionally, the reports Tyler sent back home would have reached the black community, for which he served, much faster than they did almost one hundred years ago. White racism on the battlefield would have been more widely noticed back home as well as the heroic efforts of the black soldiers like I stated earlier. The black community could have been that much more proud of the soldiers fighting overseas and could have gained the recognition they deserved. However, the government may have taken control of social media and censored most of it as they did with all other forms of media at the time because their country was at war. It could have been exactly the same as it was back then just in a different platform, but I like to think otherwise.
Sadly not much has been written on Tyler’s experiences during the war. His reports are only briefly mentioned and some times not at all in scholarly work on correspondents during the Great War. Nonetheless, this sad truth just leaves more room for scholarly work in the future! This project was a lot of fun and with it brings much to be discussed about the power of social media and how information has spread across time. Additionally, I have to say this project turned out a lot better than I had originally thought, but that’s least to say I had any negative thought about the project at the beginning. It just shows that this project made me think much deeper about this history than what I expected.
To learn more about Ralph W. Tyler see Lorenz, Alfred Lawrence. “Ralph W. Tyler.” Journalism History 31, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 2-12. http://ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=17018677&site=ehost-live. Accessed August 27, 2014.
Emmett J. Scott, Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War (Chicago: Homewood Press, 1919): 284-295.