Nestled in the heart of Indianapolis is the nationwide headquarters of the American Legion, the biggest and most prominent veterans’ service company on the planet. Indianapolis is 2nd only to Washington in its number of war memorials; some of the monuments here base on Legion premises The most popular– a granite black tomb surrounded on 4 sides by golden busts of regal eagles– expresses a solemn reverence to those who served and sacrificed in World War I. Left unsaid is an uneasy truth: The Legion spurned many veterans of color who returned from that conflict.
A century on from the Great War, the organization remains exceptionally white and exclusionary. Today, the environment inside headquarters is so hazardous that Black personnel have been counseled to prevent it at all expenses. One source summed up the alerting they got as: “Beware when handling anybody in Indianapolis.”
A rare ray of diversity exists inside the Legion’s Washington outpost. Staff here are regularly reminded of the organization’s homogeneity, consisting of when they stroll down a corridor showing the Legion’s past 101 nationwide commanders, none of whom are Black. (The Legion set up a Chinese-born Vietnam veteran in 2012 and its very first woman leader in 2017.) While the seasoned population today is increasingly diverse, the Legion’s existing slate of vice commanders is entirely white, and its list of commission and committee leaders consists of only one person of color. (” The majority of our previous nationwide leaders are deceased and we do not speculate on their ethnic background,” Legion national representative John Raughter stated in a brief email response to The New Republic‘s concerns.)
This pattern of white rule and de facto segregation runs deep throughout the Legion– from executive suites to local posts– and has stimulated at least one federal query into potential civil liberties offenses. (” Every post deserves to choose its members. You’re not supposed to choose them on race or creed, however sure they do,” one Black legionnaire informed the Chicago Tribune when that inquiry opened in1991 “It is among those things you’re going to live with.”) In maintaining this structure, the Legion has actually avoided significant conversation or action on problems concerning gender, race, or sexual identity in the military and seasoned neighborhoods. Rather, white voices rise to the top, and regressive beliefs fester.
This was evident last summertime, when National Commander James Oxford and his team went to Washington to be briefed on the Legion’s legislative top priorities. According to 2 well-informed sources, the conference occurred the time that President Trump was consuming over migrants fleeing hardship and violence in Central America, a refugee crisis he considered an “ intrusion.” This language was echoed by among Oxford’s white deputies, who, upon seeing the Legion’s diverse D.C. personnel, responded in shock. “Look,” he stated, “it’s an intrusion!” Such comments were nothing new for the going to personnel. “Working there is like remaining in the ’50 s,” one former staff member said.
Late last month, Oxford himself got in hot water after launching a divisive screed on the Legion site, entitled “That Other Infection,” warning that the Black Lives Matter movement “could cause more long-lasting damage than COVID-19” He cast protesters nationwide as anarchist thugs leaving “broken skulls and burning structures” in their wake: “[T] his other virus threatens lives, neighborhoods and infrastructures.” He got in touch with every police in America to team up in the fight for peace. To do this, he invoked the Legion’s longtime assisting principle, ” Americanism”— particularly, the organization’s extended 1962 meaning of Americanism, which also revealed that “law and order are necessary to the preservation of Americanism while lawlessness and violence are noticeably un-American.”
Oxford’s statement seemed written to appease both Trump and the Legion’s subscription base of older white conservative men. (While the organization’s yearly reports
On Wheeler’s watch, “the total atmosphere of the Legion is to support Donald Trump and the administration,” one previous Legion staffer told me, pointing out a current personnel proposal to provide deported veterans assistance that was shot down. National Commander Alvin Owsley informed a job interviewer in 1923, adding:
The American Legion is combating every component that threatens our democratic federal government– Soviets, anarchists, I.W.W., innovative socialists and every other red … Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.
For many American Legion members, a regional post’s bar is the focal point of social life; for some Legion bartenders, it’s likewise a site of vicious job harassment.