Ludlow Luther: Cincinnati Area’s First African American Casualty of WWI
Posted On: 06/28/2017 - 12:30pm, Posted By: Other
This post was written by Margaret Breidenbaugh, Miami University graduate intern.
April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
December 14, 1918 – the First World War ended just weeks earlier, but that didn’t stop 160,000 visitors from attending the United States and Allied Governments War Exposition in Cincinnati’s Music Hall. For nine days people thronged to the concert hall to see defunct aircraft, weaponry, even mock battles. The purpose of the so-called “Victory War Exposition” was to encourage local support for the war effort and to educate the general public about what had transpired across the Atlantic. It didn’t seem to matter that the war was over; the event was a huge financial success.
A unique draw of the exposition was a collection of approximately 6000 photographs of local service members. These images were loaned to the exposition by family members of servicemen and women. After the exposition ended families were encouraged to mail copies of the photographs to the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio.
In the physical exhibit space set aside for this portrait collection, mostly women volunteers watched over the photographs of tri-state area servicemen and women. Many of these volunteers were mothers of soldiers. 42-year-old Emma Luther Dudley may have walked among them.
Emma would have tended to the “Gold Star” room, reserved for portraits of men killed in action. Her second oldest son Ludlow gave his life in France five months earlier. On paper she was his next of kin. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Luther was “the first negro from Cincinnati and vicinity killed in action overseas.” At the time of the exposition in Music Hall, Ludlow’s body was still buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Private Ludlow Luther, 369th Infantry Regiment. Killed in action in France on July 15, 1918. SC#77.
Ludlow was a member of the Harlem Hellfighters. As the only all-black regiment in the American Armed Forces at the time, these men fought to overcome prejudices not only at home but also in battle. In the summer of 1918 the Hellfighters were assigned to the French army to aid in their fight against the Germans. Black soldiers may have fought alongside whites, but the United States stipulation was that the French not treat them as equals. Ludlow would not live to see the prejudice that continued when the remaining Hellfighters returned home. The fear on the part of the United States government was that, had the French been allowed to treat them as equals, African American soldiers would begin thinking they had the same rights as whites.
Ludlow already faced personal obstacles, never mind broader racial tensions. According to his draft registration card, he had poor eyesight, not an ideal trait for combat. And he began work at a young age. At just 13 years old he was a servant for a private family. His mother couldn’t read or write, his father probably couldn’t either. Young Ludlow had adult responsibilities.
George Luther was about 43 years old when Ludlow came into the world, while Emma was just 21. George and Emma, both of Kentucky, had seven children: Margaret, William, Ludlow, Alice, Florence, Martin, and Lucile. Six-year-old Allen Quick, a white child, was living with the Luthers in Springfield Township in 1900. John and Mary Quick were raising little Elsie and Hazel two doors down from the Luthers on Congress Avenue. Did Ludlow’s parents bring up the Quick’s only son? By 1910 they had all moved away, Allen included. He was drafted in Indianapolis. By that time Allen had been married, had a two-year-old son, and had become a widower. He claimed physical inability to fight. Whatever the connection between the Luthers and the Quicks, black and white, it was a far cry from the treatment Ludlow would encounter in war.
Ludlow, twenty years old during the draft, entered the service, joining Company “C” 317th Engineer Regiment, 92nd Division, on October 27, 1917. Not long after he was re-assigned to the sanitary detachment of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the “Harlem Hellfighters.” African Americans were often given menial service jobs because of a common misconception that they were ill equipped for combat. Ludlow made the rank of private on January 1, 1918. Little did he know he would not live to see another New Year’s Day. He served overseas from April 23, 1918 to his death on July 15. That summer day he was killed in action on the first day of the Second Battle of Marne, the last major German offensive on the Western Front. Ludlow Luther was finally reburied in Beechwood Cemetery, Fleming Road, Cincinnati, on October 22, 1921.