A Subtle Discrimination: Segregation and the Selective Service Act of 1917-1918 in Abbeville County, South Carolina
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Orville Vernon Burton
Dr. Rod Andrew
Dr. Abel Bartley
The focus of this study examines how the South Carolina Abbeville County Draft Board (ACDB) implemented the provisions of the Selective Service Act of 1917 and its ancillary legislation to register and select men for induction into military service for World War I. The primary question is whether the ACDB, with no clear directions from the United States War Department, interpret and apply the Act’s provisions in a discriminatory manner against African Americans. This study will show that the Abbeville County Draft Board manipulated the provisions of the Selective Service Act to discriminate against both African American and Euro-American registrants. Segregationist politics in the United States Regular Army and the South Carolina National Guard limited the ability of African Americans to volunteer for military service. The study will document that the War Department’s failure to offer precise instructions on the Selective Service Act led to conflicting interpretations of its provisions. It will show how the Abbeville County Draft Board used the legislative intent of the Act to maintain a viable workforce with the community’s industrial and large-scale agribusiness sectors, shifting the burden of military service to African American and Euro-American small farmers, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers. The study will show how the Abbeville County Draft Board used an income means test to target impoverished individuals, classified as non-essential laborers, for military service. Conflicting interpretations on exemptions due to marriage would result in a larger number of African American married men with dependents being drafted than Euro-American men with dependents being drafted. In seeking an exemption from military service, the complexity of the paperwork and the procedures placed an undue hardship on African Americans. Finally, the creation of the Student Army Training Corps on land grant colleges and the induction of students into these training programs on college campuses were unevenly applied to African American and Euro-American students.
Bailey Jr., Harris M., "A Subtle Discrimination: Segregation and the Selective Service Act of 1917-1918 in Abbeville County, South Carolina" (2022). All Theses. 3898.