Segregated in Life, Integrated in Death

In this activity, students will examine the Meuse-Argonne American cemetery in light of a few other cemeteries created around the same time in the United States and France. Students should pay particular attention to whether people of different races are buried adjacent to one another.

Guiding Questions

  • Why are the burial arrangements of the Meuse-Argonne cemetery different from other cemeteries created around the same time?

Learning Outcomes

The student will be able to:

  • Interpret and analyze images of cemeteries.
  • Photograph cemeteries in their home communities.
  • Create a PowerPoint about the Meuse-Argonne and other cemeteries.


For homework, assign the students to take a picture of the oldest cemetery in their hometown. The students should then bring their photos/images to class and share them. During observations of the photographs of the cemeteries, the students should answer the following questions:

  • Do any patterns stand out to you?
  • Are there any grave-stones that are different from the others? Are there any indicators as to the race or ethnicity of any of the
  • individuals buried in the cemetery?
  • Is the cemetery well-kept? Is the grass cut, bushes trimmed, etc.?
  • Are there any religious symbols present? If so, describe them.


  • Assign the students to view the photographs of the cemeteries in France.
  • The students should then answer the following questions: What do the cemeteries have in common? How are the cemeteries different?
  • Assign the students to share their answers to the “Preactivities” questions with the class.
  • Assign the students to create a PowerPoint presentation about the Meuse-Argonne cemetery as it compares to the Arlington National cemetery before 1948 and other cemeteries in France in the early 20th century.


Students will create a PowerPoint presentation about the differences between the Meuse Argonne cemetery and other cemeteries created around the same time in their communities. Students will also include their hypothesis about why the Meuse-Argonne cemetery is different.

Checklist for the PowerPoint presentation:

  • PowerPoint includes images of the Meuse-Argonne American cemetery and the Arlington National cemetery.
  • PowerPoint includes images of at least two other cemeteries in the United States.
  • PowerPoint includes an analysis of the cemetery design and practices of integration or segregation. 
  • PowerPoint includes a hypothesis about the reasons for the integration of the Meuse-Argonne cemetery.

Materials Needed

Primary Source Photographs

Background Information

Arlington National Cemetery was established in 1864. At that time, African American soldiers were buried in a separate section from white soldiers. About 1500 United States Colored Troops, the first black combat soldiers of the Civil War, are interred in section 27. Another 4000 African American citizens – former residents of Freedman’s Village (a “model” community of emancipated slaves, runaway, and free blacks) -- are buried in this section. Four Medal of Honor recipients are interred in section 27:

  • Landsman William H. Brown, U. S. Navy (Civil War)
  • Sgt. James H. Harris, 38th U. S. Colored Troops, U. S. Army
  • (Civil War)
  • Pvt. James Richmond, 8th Ohio Infantry, U. S. Army (Civil War)
  • Sgt. Thomas Shaw, 9th U. S. Cavalry, U. S. Army (Indian
  • Campaigns – 1881)

Segregation by race and rank continued in the cemetery for 82 years. With the Executive Order 9981, President Harry S. Truman integrated the military. While the process was gradual on the battlefield, it was immediate in the cemeteries. The policy of segregation of military cemeteries was finally abandoned. Several African American soldiers from World War I are now buried in Arlington National cemetery in an integrated manner. Spotswood Poles, a combat veteran with five battle stars and the Purple Heart, is buried in section 42, site 2324. Henry Johnson, the first American soldier to earn France’s highest military honor (the Croix de Guerre) is buried in section 25, site 64.