AFRICAN AMERICAN HERO
IN FIRST WORLD WAR
BECAME ONE OF MINNESOTA’S
EARLIEST CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS
Samuel Ransom was living in St. Paul when America went to war in April 1917. He was born in Chicago in 1883 and was a high school football hero at Chicago’s Hyde Park High School, where he played alongside College Football Hall of Famer Walter Eckersall (quarterbacked for Alonzo Stagg at University of Chicago). Ransom scored seven touchdowns in a game for Hyde Park in 1902. Ransom arrived in St. Paul in 1907 to play professional baseball with a Negro League team.He stayed and made Minnesota his home. As a member of the 8th Illinois National Guard unit, Ransom entered the U. S. Army on July 25, 1917. The 8th Illinois trained at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas through February 1918, during which time Ransom was promoted from private to corporal to sergeant and, finally, to first lieutenant of Company B. Prominent spokesmen, including W. E. B. DuBois, encouraged African Americans to join the war effort. Many saw putting on the uniform as an opportunity to prove their race worthy of the respect and equal treatment they desired. Samuel Ransom’s officer’s commission conveyed an even greater acceptance of a man’s intelligence and courage.
Samuel Ransom and his soldiers-in-arms sailed from Newport News, Virginia on the U.S.S. President Grant on April 3, 1918. They arrived at Brest, France nineteen days later. The French Army, devastated by four years of war, was desperate for support and the United States Army agreed to temporarily assign the four regiments of the newly formed 93rd Division to the French Army. As a result, the African Americans of the 93rd Division found themselves with a unique opportunity to get into the fight. The French put the four regiments of the 93rd Division into the front line and the 93rd remained with the French Army through the remainder of the war.
Lt. Samuel Ransom and the 370th Regiment underwent training at Grandvillars in the Vosges region before joining the French 10th Division at the beginning of June 1918. The 10th moved into the St. Mihiel Sector on June 17. Lt. Ransom and his comrades saw their first action on June 25, 1918. The French general commanding the 10th attended the funeral of the first soldier of the 370th killed in action. There was a sense from the men that they had not previously known. The 93rd proved its worth as a fighting unit on the Meuse-Argonne front through August 18.
The 93rd Division as part of the French XXX Corps took over a regimental sector in the Oise-Aisne Offensive in late September 1918. The advance commenced at dawn on September 27, 1918. The well-entrenched Germans fiercely resisted the attackers, subjecting the men of the 370th to intense shelling and machine gun fire. The regiment took the German position and pressed in pursuit, maintaining contact with the retreating Germans. The regiment was allowed two weeks relief on October 13 and returned to the front line on October 27, 1918 in the vicinity of Granfloup-et Fay. The Germans shelled this position heavily. One shell killed thirty-five men and wounded another forty-one. A shell fragment mashed Lieutenant Ransom’s shoulder on November 1, 1918. He was removed from the front and taken to the hospital, where he resided when the war ended on November 11, 1918. Samuel Ransom was one of five hundred and sixty men of the Illinois regiment wounded in battle. The regiment lost ninety killed in action and another fifteen died of their wounds. Lieutenant Ransom was discharged from the hospital on December 11 and sailed home with the regiment on February 2, arriving at New York on February 9, 1918. All four regiments of the 93rd Division, including the 370th, were awarded the French.
The veterans of the 370th returned to Chicago on the morning of February 16, 1919. The regiment arrived at the LaSalle Street train station and marched to the Coliseum for a huge reception with dancing to a one hundred piece orchestra. After lunch, the regiment marched north on Michigan Avenue through a screaming crowd of hundreds of thousands. The Chicago Daily News called the day “ … the most remarkable demonstration of greeting in the history of the city.” An official welcoming committee reviewed the regiment from the steps of the Art Institute, after which time the 370th marched through town to Grand Central Station and boarded the train for Camp Grant and mustering out.
Samuel Ransom remained in the National Guard and retired years later with the rank of major in the United States Army. He worked for the U. S. Postal Service for thirty-two years, retiring in 1953, at which time the St. Paul Pioneer Press called him “one of the leading and most civic-minded Negro citizens in the city.” Upon his death in 1970, the Minneapolis Tribune referred to Samuel Ransom as “one of Minnesota’s earliest civil rights workers”.
The remains of Samuel Ransom are buried in Section P, gravesite 1515, at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.