The Question of Integrating U.S. Forces in Greenland, 1948

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

An earlier post discussed a late 1949/early 1950 exchange of correspondence between the Department of Defense and the Department of State about potential international implications of the integration of the U.S. armed forces in the late 1940s.  Defense officials wanted to know if there were “political objections to the stationing of individual Negroes or non-segregated units” in a number of overseas locations. 

One of those places was Greenland.  The integration issue as it pertained to that Danish possession had come up even earlier and sheds further light on the general subject.  On October 1, 1948, the U.S. consulate in Godthaab, Greenland, informed the Department of State that the Greenland Base Command wanted information on the U.S.-Denmark “understanding with regard to assignment Negro troops in Greenland.”  The Greenland Base Command had been established by the United States during World War II, when U.S. forces occupied Greenland as part of the American hemispheric defense effort.  At that time, Greenland was very isolated both geographically and as a community.  Danish officials had a general fear of outsiders being assigned to Greenland and mixing, socially or otherwise, with the local population.

In response to the request for information, the Department combed its files and found “hardly any” background documentation.  It, therefore, held a meeting on October 8 with Danish embassy officials in Washington to find out what U.S. and Danish authorities had decided during the war.  The meeting is described in the following memorandum of conversation.

Memo re: Use of Negro Troops in Greenland, Oct 8, 1948

Afterwards, the Department of State sent the following telegram to answer the consulate’s question.

US decides to not assign African Americans to base in Greenland
Telegram from Lovett to the American Consul at Godthaab, Oct 11, 1948

As this shows, the onus of discriminatory actions was not always on U.S. officials.  Rather, they may have been responding to the racial prejudices of their host country counterparts as was the case regarding the issue of U.S. troops in Greenland.  As the later exchange between the Department of Defense and the Department of State discussed in the earlier blog post demonstrates, however, by 1950 it was clear American policy to send military personnel overseas without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.

Sources: U.S. Consulate Godthaab to Department of State, Telegram No. 54, October 1, 1948, file 859B.20/10-148; H. Francis Cunningham, Memorandum of conversation, file 859B.20/10-848; Department of State to U.S. Consulate Godthaab, Telegram 49, file 859B.20/10-148; all in the 1945-49 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

Featured Image: Former US Consulate Building in Nuuk c.2021, Eavan Cully