African American Gold Star Mothers

The mothers and widows of soldiers killed in action during World War I were invited by the U. S. government to take a pilgrimage to view the burial places of their sons and husbands in Europe. Of the 17, 389 women eligible for the pilgrimage, 624 were African American. Even though the sacrifices of their sons and husbands were equal, the travel accommodations for the mothers were not. The African American mothers had to travel on segregated ships to go see their sons. In this lesson, students will explore the African American Gold Star mothers’ response to the segregated travel arrangements by the U. S. government.

Guiding Questions

  • How did African American Gold Star mothers respond to the U.S. government-sponsored segregated pilgrimages to Europe?

Learning Outcomes

The student will be able to:

  • Interpret and analyze a primary source document.
  • Write historical fiction based on the Gold Star mother pilgrimages.


  • Assign the students to take on the role of a mother that just found out from the U. S. government that her son had been killed in action in France during World War I.
  • Assign the students to write down a list of emotions that she may experience.


  • Assign the students to read the primary source document (Gold Star mothers petition the president to end the segregation of the pilgrimages).
  • As the students read the document, ask them to write down three main reasons that the mothers cite for eliminating segregation in pilgrimages.
  • Ask the students to then take their exercise from the opening activity and then imagine that they were African American and were told that they could visit their sons’ burial place on segregated ships.


Assign the students to write a fictional diary entry from an African American Gold Star mother that took the voyage.

Requirements of the Diary Entry:

  • One-page
  • Include a description of the voyage.
  • Include at least two events that happened or places she may have seen while in France visiting the burial site of her son.
  • Include a description of how she may have related with the French and how they French may have related with her.

Materials Needed

Primary Source Document: NAACP Petition

There were initially 55 eligible black women (from 21 different states) who planned not to go on the European pilgrimage. The NAACP sent the petition signed by those 55 women. The petition was sent to President Hoover in May 1930. The petition is on pages 117 and 118 of the following book:

Graham. J. (2005). The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages of the 1930s: Overseas Grave Visitations by Mothers and Widows of fallen U. S. World War I soldiers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Poignant Protest is an LA Times article by Richard A. Serrano about the African American Gold Star Mothers.