Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “african-americans”

Where were the Tuskegee Airmen trained?

In my entry for Air Force Timelines Page (World War II section) (Air Force Historical Research Agency), I claim you can answer the question “Where were the Tuskegee Airmen trained?” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Visit the site and examine the World War II section
  2. While there are three resources mentioning the Tuskegee Airmen, the most likely source for our question appears to be Five Airfields of Tuskegee During World War II. On the very first page, you’ll find the five fields at which the airmen were trained:

What is far less known is the story of the five airfields in Macon Country Alabama where  the Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly military airplanes. In this paper, I want to describe those  airfields and the important historical role each played in the greater Tuskegee Airmen story.  The airfields are Kennedy Field, Moton Field, Tuskegee Army Air Field, Griel Field, and Shorter Field. Only one of them is still an active airfield today, and that one is not the largest or the most
important of the five.

We also learn (unsurprisingly) that there was an openly racist reason for holding the training at the Tuskegee Institute:

A third reason is that the War Department insisted that the black pilots be trained separately from white pilots, and be assigned to units designed especially for black pilots, and not be integrated with the white pilots training elsewhere. Tuskegee was in an environment where segregation was already entrenched. Although white residents of the town of Tuskegee and Macon County were not happy that black cadets from around the world were coming to their part of the country, at least the blacks would be in segregated units.

As implied by “third reason” above, there were also non racial reasons for training the Tuskegee airmen in Alabama. Read the full paper for more details.

This resource is just one of the many US Air Force related resources that are in Writer’s Guide to Government Information.


Center for Cryptologic History

Center for Cryptologic History –https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/center-cryptologic-history/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find examples of women or African-American cryptographers?
  • What was the role of the NSA during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
  • How did the Soviets use Project GUNMAN to tap into US Embassy typewriters?


At one time it was said that the federal initials NSA stood for No Such Agency. Today the National Security Agency operates the Center for Cryptologic History. This site has a good amount of procedural and biographical data for a writer creating spies or cryptographers.

Some notable parts of the site include:

Historical Publications – A relatively small but useful number of NSA publications ranging from 15 page brochures to full books. Most are available online and the NSA will send you a print copy if you e-mail them. Since the NSA probably already has your e-mail address, don’t be shy about requesting print if that is the format you are comfortable with. The publications fall into the following time periods:

  • Pre-WWII (Prior to 1941)
  • WWII Era (1941-1945)
  • Cold War (1948-1991)
  • Korean War Era (1950-1953)
  • Vietnam War (1954-1975)
  • Miscellaneous

Good sounding titles from this set of publications include:

  • Masked Dispatches: Cryptograms and Cryptology in American History, 1775-1900
  • Listening to the Rumrunners
  • Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939-1945
  • The Quiet Heroes of the Southwest Pacific Theater: An Oral History of the Men and Women of CBB and FRUMEL
  • A Dangerous Business: The U.S. Navy and National Reconnaissance During the Cold War (Did you know that 90 Navy personnel were killed while doing Cold war recon?)
  • PFC Jay Stoner – A two page story of heroism and sacrifice from the Korean War
  • The Voynich Manuscript – an Elegant Enigma


The Right to Fight: African-American Marines in World War II

The Right to Fight: African-American Marines in World War II. Bernard C. Nalty 1995. 28 pp.
(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/33115741)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were the initial assignments for African-Americans in the World War II US Navy?
  • How many enlisted African-American Marines participate in the Okinawa campaign? How many officers?
  • Where can I find pictures of Black Marines from World War II?
  • Where can I find pictures from the Battle of Iwo Jima?


A narrative of the how, why and where African-Americans came to serve in the US Marines during World War II. Well illustrated but lacks either table of contents or an index. Does have a handy table of African-American Marine units on page 30 of the PDF file. The entry for each unit carries the date of activation, unit designation, date of deactivation and where deactivated. This book also provides the valuable information that the Marine Corps did not commission one single African-American officer during World War II. Stories of that era should avoid Black Marine Captains. This bit of info might also come in handy for time travel stories.

Center of Military History Online Photograph Library

Center of Military History Online Photograph Library –  http://www.history.army.mil/html/artphoto/photographs.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did a radio operator’s equipment look like in World War II?
  • Where can I find scenes associated with the Battle of the Bulge?
  • What did a Buffalo Soldier training camp look like?
  • What did Army Nurse uniforms look like in World War II?


This library has collections of photographs that encompass a number of eras. The collections that cover World War II are:

  • Battle of the Bulge Images
  • Buffalo Soldiers on the Eve of World War II
  • Images from World War II: The Early Years
  • African Americans in the U.S. Army – Early World War II
  • Images from World War II: Preparing for Battle
  • Photographs of World War II Ireland
  • The Normandy Invasion: The Story in Pictures
  • Army Nurses: World War II & Korean War Images

The presentation of each photograph varies, but you can usually rely on a caption for each photograph. In some cases information about the collection from which this came from will be offered.

Spanish-American War: Historical Overview and Select Bibliography (Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Spanish-American War: Historical Overview and Select Bibliography (Naval History and Heritage Command) – https://web.archive.org/web/20141210200200/http://www.history.navy.mil/biblio/biblio7/biblio7.htm

UPDATE 1/19/2015 – URL shifted to Internet Archive version because not currently locatable on the Naval History and Heritage Command Web Site.

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How did the American blockade against Cuba operate?
  • How did the United States sever telegraph links between Cuba and Spain?
  • Where can I find an overview of the battle of Manila Bay?
  • Where can I locate music and poetry honoring the memory of the USS Maine?


This extensive, if mostly unannotated, bibliography is a good starting point for people doing a deep dive of research into the Spanish American War/War with Spain. It is divided into the following sections:

  • General Works
  • Background and Preparation
  • Cuban Insurrection and Relations with Spain
  • USS Maine
  • Voyage of USS Oregon
  • The Opposing Fleets
  • Operations
  • Pacific Theater
  • Atlantic and Caribbean Theater
  • Special Subjects
  • Blacks in the Navy
  • Diplomatic Relations
  • Intelligence
  • Marines
  • Medicine
  • Naval Leaders and Enlisted Personnel
  • The Press: Journalists, Photographers, and Artists
  • Poetry and Music
  • Consequences, Lessons Learned, and Evaluation of the Navy’s Performance

When annotations do exist, they range from a sentence to a short paragraph.

The beginning of the bibliography features a roughly 13 page “historical overview” essay that provides background on the war and its effect on subsequent naval preparation. If you are considering using the War with Spain as a historical setting, this is an easy place to start.

Search/Use Tip:

For works in the bibliography published earlier than 1923, try copying and pasting the title into your favorite search engine. As a result of a number of library digitization projects, many notable books published prior to 1923 are now available full text on the Internet. For an example, see:

Johnston, William A. History Up To Date: A Concise Account of the War of 1898 between the United States and Spain, Its Causes and the Treaty of Paris. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1899. 258 pp., which can be downloaded from Google Books at http://books.google.com/books/about/History_up_to_date.html?id=SvY6Cq8AIYwC.

For works still under copyright protection (usually, but not always, since 1923), try your local library. If they don’t have a volume, they may be able to get it for your through interlibrary loan.

Long passage to Korea : Black sailors and the integration of the U.S. Navy

Long passage to Korea : Black sailors and the integration of the U.S. Navy / Bernard C. Nalty.
(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/51652982)
(Online: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/51652982.html)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • When did the US Marines first ban African-American enlistees? When were they allowed to serve?
  • When were free African Americans allowed to enlist in the US Navy?
  • What were the expected assignments for African-Americans between the 1890s and World War II?
  • Who were some African-American naval heroes throughout the years?


This work documents the service of African-Americans in the US Navy from the time of the Revolution through the Korean War. It also covers the post World War II efforts to fully integrate them into Navy, ending policies of racial discrimination.The work contains a list of sources at the end. It also features sidebars and many photographs.

This book will be very helpful to writers of historical novels that feature African Americans. Having them as general sailors would be accurate up to the 1890s and after 1942, in between they would be stuck as stewards and mess attendants. Unless you were writing an alternate history.

Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command –

Live – http://www.history.navy.mil/

2014 Internet Archive version – https://web.archive.org/web/20141216073338/http://www.history.navy.mil/

UPDATE 1/29/2015 – This website had a major reorganization in December 2014. The description below refers to the 2014 Internet Archive version. A write up of the live site, described as a work in progress, is planned for later in 2015.

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was the Navy’s involvement with nuclear weapons testing?
  • How can I get a log for a Navy ship?
  • Why were there aircraft carriers in the Great Lakes?


The front page of this site has a number of articles of current interest. For example in August 2012, the front page featured an article on Naval Olympians. For writers, the most important section of this site will be the “Resources and Research” tab. This section links to a dozen plus topics, including:

Biographies – One to two page biographies of notable naval figures.

Block 39 Resources – Set of illustrated postcards on naval history topics aimed at Chief Petter Officer (CPO) evaluation. (Only about half of these work in the Internet Archive version)

Deck Logs – Procedures on obtaining ship deck logs. Includes explanation of what is and is not included in ship logs.

Diversity – Information on African Americans, Asians & Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and women serving in the US Navy. Also includes information on current diversity efforts.

Photography – From the website, “The Online Library of Selected Images is a readily accessible picture index to some of the Photographic Section’s images. The Online Library contains thousands of interesting photographs on a variety of Naval and Maritime subjects. New images are added continuously.” The photography section also includes information on conducting an in person research visit.

Publications – Annotated bibliography of naval history publications. Only a handful appear to be available electronically. One example of a book that could be useful to writers of a number of genres is The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War, by Stuart I. Rochester which covers techniques to communicate with fellow prisoners, maintain fitness and other tasks.

Video Index – Topical index to YouTube videos posted by the Naval History and Heritage Command. Note: this is a link to the live site.

US Army Center of Military History

US Army Center of Military History – http://www.history.army.mil

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What problems faced US occupation forces in Mexico from 1846-1848?
  • How were US Army units equipped during the Korean War?
  • What US Army unit was known as the “Wizards of War?”
  • What did US Army Tropical Combat Uniforms look like in the 1980s.


This site is divided into the following sections:

Bookshelves – There are several ways to access the bookshelves materials. For writers I think the most effective way would be to select “Books and Research Materials” which produces the following list organized by time periods:

  • General
  • Colonial Era
  • Revolutionary War
  • Early National Era
  • War of 1812
  • Early 19th Century
  • Mexican War
  • Civil War
  • Late Nineteenth Century
  • War with Spain
  • Turn of the Century
  • World War I
  • The Interwar Years
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam
  • Cold War Years
  • Desert Shield/Storm
  • Contingency Operations

Clicking on an era will bring up a tabbed page. All of the tabbed pages will have “published material” and “archival material.” Published material will link to an HTML version of the a given book. If you find this format awkward, see the tips in Appendix E, “Locating Print Copies” for locating a print copy. Archival material will generally link to shorter articles or finding aids.

Images – Images link to artwork and photography. The Artwork page links to several views of Army artwork, but “Galleries by Topic” is probably your best bet. The topics provided are:

  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • World War I Era Posters
  • World war II Era Posters
  • Somailia Artwork
  • Desert Shield Online Gallery
  • War with Spain Army Art Exhibit
  • Normandy Invasion – Story in Pictures

The photographs page offers links to the these online exhibits:

  • Army Libraries Through the Years
  • The Army Nurse Corps in the War with Spain
  • Battle of the Bulge Images
  • Buffalo Soldiers on the Eve of World War II
  • Christmas in the Army – Through the Years
  • Images from World War II: The Early Years
  • African Americans in the U.S. Army – Early World War II
  • Images from World War II: Preparing for Battle
  • Photographs of World War II Ireland
  • The Normandy Invasion: The Story in Pictures
  • Army Nurses: World War II & Korean War Images
  • Korean War Photographs, 1950
  • Korean War Photographs, 1951
  • Korean War Photographs, 1952
  • Engineers in Korea (Photos digitized by the Engineer History Office, Ft. Leonard Wood)
  • Infantry: Images From Vietnam
  • Selected Just Cause (Panama 1989) Photographs
  • Selected Gulf War Photographs

Despite being linked from the “photographs” page, not all the images here are photographs. This seems particularly true of Army Nurses: World War II & Korean War Images.

Unit History – This section consists of Force Support Structure and Organizational History. Click on Organizational History for history of units. Clicking on the Lineage and Honors tab, then on lineage and honors information takes you to a listing of specialties including infantry, intelligence and civil affairs, among many others. Clicking on a specialty gives you a list of units, where you can view their lineage (significant events in their organization) and honors – listing of campaigns and citations.
Another tab really worth clicking on under the main unit/organizational history is the “special designations” tab, which has information about official unit nicknames. The page provides the following example using a unit coin:

The unit coin for the 28th Combat Support Hospital (pictured above) prominently features its special designation CHINA DRAGONS. The designation stems from the hospital’s service as portable surgical hospital in China during World War II, which is symbolized on its distinctive unit insignia by a dragon.

From Airborne Thunder (73d Cavalry Regiment [formerly 73d Armor]) to Wizards of War (11th Military Intelligence Company) there are many colorful unit nicknames in the US Army.

Museums – Main feature is a directory of Army Museums, but click the “articles and papers” section for a set of resources that writers might find helpful in outfitting military characters:

Medal of Honor – This section offers the full text of all 3,400 plus Medal of Honor recipients organized by war/operation as follows:

  • Civil War (A-L)
  • Civil War (M-Z)
  • Indian War Campaigns
  • Interim 1866-1870
  • 1871 Korean Campaign
  • Interim 1871-1898
  • War with Spain
  • Philippine Insurrection
  • China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion)
  • Interim 1901-1911
  • Action Against Outlaws–Philippines 1911
  • Mexican Campaign (Vera Cruz)
  • Haiti 1915
  • Interim 1915-16
  • Dominican Campaign
  • World War I
  • Haiti Campaign 1919-1920
  • Second Nicaraguan Campaign
  • Interim 1920-1940
  • World War II (A-F)
  • World War II (G-L)
  • World War II (M-S)
  • World War II (T-Z)
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam (A-L)
  • Vietnam (M-Z)
  • Somalia
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • Special Legislation

The citations range from a paragraph to nearly a page and highlight the selflessness and bravery of the recipients while providing a glance into the hell that is war.

In addition to the citations, this section also offers statistical information about Medal of Honor recipients and a brief history of how the award came to be.

Staff Rides – This section gives access to a number of book length guides that are intended to used on a “staff ride”, a sort of specialized field trip. To understand the concept more fully, one should read the brochure “The Staff Ride” at the top of the page. The staff rides are related to the American Civil War. They are treated in more detail in the section for the Civil War below.

FAQs – As you might expect, this section has a set of questions frequently asked of the Center for Military History. Some of the questions seemed unusual to me, especially “What is the history of Project HORIZON, the Army’s proposal to establish a lunar outpost?” My first thought was “The Army was looking for a moon base in 1959? I had no idea!” If you click on that question, you’ll can download a two volume proposal. Or you can read about Elvis Presley’s Army career. I’d rather read about moon bases.

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories – http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/voices/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What songs would US slaves have sung in the fields?
  • How did the life of a female slave differ between Texas and Virginia?
  • What was picking cotton as a slave like?


From the website, “Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom. Several individuals sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement. It is important to note that all of the interviewees spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives that are reflected in these recordings. The individuals documented in this presentation have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond.”

The website notes that a number of the recordings have poor sound quality, but there are a number of transcripts available. The collection may be browsed by audio interviews, song titles, names, subjects and places. The recordings themselves are available in Realplayer, MP3 and Wav formats. Aside from the recordings and transcripts, there are photos of the people interviewed along with an essay about the interviewers.

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