Servicemen



Curator's Notes:

After my grandmother and my mother passed, I was left with two folded American flags – the ones that families are given after a military burial – that I had no idea what to do with. I was raised in a Pan-African/Black Nationalist/Cultural Nationalist Black Muslim household. To this day, I cannot even recite the pledge of allegiance in its entirety, since I’ve never stood for it. So what was I going to do with these American flags which are now part history, mine, and the worlds. Upon reflecting on them, I realized they were material objects, icons of a complicated story of Black folks and US racism and US imperialism.

Joining the military has been a way to claim citizenship and belonging for Black people in the United States. And it has also been a pathway for upward mobility. This second reasoning seems to tie “Aubrey’s Flag” and “Aubrey Jr.’s Flag” together. The military definitely served as a vehicle for upward mobility for Aubrey Sr. Three years after returning home, he joined the fire department and five years after that moved his new family from Harlem to the suburbs in Jamaica, Queens. It did not do the same for Aubrey Jr. whom, I’m fairly certain, joined the military as a means of doing something “constructive” with his life but only seemed to serve for nine months in 1977.

The bulk of the photos here are from my grandfather’s collection. He served in a segregated military. He was in the all-Black 352nd Engineer General Service Regiment. His regiment was part of what people call the “Forgotten Theatre of World War II,” the China-Burma-India Theater, and also his regiment was in Iran, the “Persia Corridor.” Their job was to build roads that would bring supplies to allied positions. With the help of researcher Dr. Maysan Haydar, our speculation is that he was issued a camera as part of his duties and that at least some of the pictures in his collection were part of the surveying work he did, especially those of terrain. This would explain the almost 500 photos he has from during the war.

He was a documentarian and archivist because a majority of his photos (before and after the war) are labeled! The labels are both matter-of-fact and some are interpretive. Some of these interpretative labels mimic an old-school anthropological approach – the kind that saw culture in very bounded ways i.e., we do this and they do that and also saw cultures as “primitive” or “advanced.” Some of that is definitely echoed in his labeling. Some other labels reflect a more intimate or nuanced relationship to people and places.

These photos also make we wonder about impact. If we look at where he was then and his activities and then compare that to some of what has taken place in those locations and the US since: nine years after his unit leaves Iran, the US supports a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mossadegh; three years after his unit leaves the Indian subcontinent, India and Pakistan go through decolonization and partition; Burma also gains independence and later a coup results in repressive military rule and the US has grown to be an imperial power with a dangerous impact. What is the relationship between my grandfather and Black soldiers then and the US and the world now?

Aubrey Sr.'s Flag
  • Aubrey Sr.'s Flag
  • Queens, NY
  • 2021
  • open
Aubrey Jr.'s Flag
  • Aubrey Jr.'s Flag
  • Queens, NY
  • 2021
  • open
 
Basic Training
  • Basic Training
  • Fort Belvoir, VA
  • 1942
  • open
Parade Formation
  • Parade Formation
  • Augusta, GA
  • 1942
  • open
At the Counter
  • At the Counter
  • Fort Belvoir, VA
  • 1942
  • open
 
A Segregated Military
  • A Segregated Military
  • United States
  • 1942
  • open
Street Scene
  • Street Scene
  • India/Pakistan
  • Undated
  • open
Eid Prayer
  • Eid Prayer
  • Unknown
  • 1945
  • open
 
Tomb in Iran
  • Tomb in Iran
  • Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Examinations or Study
  • Examinations or Study
  • United States
  • circa 1942
  • open
Assam India 1945
  • Assam India 1945
  • Assam, India
  • 1945
  • open
 
Operations 'MUYAN CHIBI?'
  • Operations "MUYAN CHIBI?"
  • Burma/Myanmar
  • Undated
  • open
Trouble in the Land
  • Trouble in the Land
  • Ahwaz, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Social Gathering
  • Social Gathering
  • Ahwaz, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
 
Band 352nd Engrs Maneuvers North Carolina
  • Band 352nd Engrs Maneuvers North Carolina
  • United States
  • 1941
  • open
Indian Press Band at Lucknow
  • Indian Press Band at Lucknow
  • Lucknow, India
  • 1945
  • open
Indian WACs, etc
  • Indian WACs, etc
  • Karachi, Pakistan
  • October 1945
  • open
 
Backyards of Hamadan
  • Backyards of Hamadan
  • Hamadan, Iran
  • 1943
  • open
American Embassy
  • American Embassy
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Two Allies
  • Two Allies
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
 
Little Aubrey at the Iranian Sports Stadium
  • Little Aubrey at the Iranian Sports Stadium
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
A.J. & Friend
  • A.J. & Friend
  • Karachi, Pakistan
  • October 1945
  • open
Sightseers in Ahwaz
  • Sightseers in Ahwaz
  • Ahwaz, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
 
Four Indian Allies - Nice Fellows
  • Four Indian Allies - Nice Fellows
  • Ahwaz, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Bugler Joc
  • Bugler Joc
  • Andimeshk, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Camp Admirabad
  • Camp Admirabad
  • Iran
  • 1944
  • open
 
Camp Atterbury
  • Camp Atterbury
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Burma/Myanmar Dec. 1944
  • Burma/Myanmar Dec. 1944
  • Burma/Myanmar
  • December 1944
  • open
1st Leg of a Long Journey to the Bronx, N.Y.C
  • 1st Leg of a Long Journey to the Bronx, N.Y.C
  • Tehran, Iran
  • October 4, 1945
  • open
 
Morroccan [sic] Coastline
  • Morroccan [sic] Coastline
  •  
  • October 1945
  • open
Farewell Send Off
  • Farewell Send Off
  • Karachi, Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
Refreshments
  • Refreshments
  • India/Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
 
Passengers waiting at Manmathapur
  • Passengers waiting at Manmathapur
  • Manmathapur, West Bengal, India
  • 1945
  • open
Hostess at Lucknow
  • Hostess at Lucknow
  • Lucknow, India
  • 1945
  • open
Ledo-Assam
  • Ledo-Assam
  • Ledo, Assam, India
  • 1945
  • open
 
Iranian Celebration
  • Iranian Celebration
  • Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Burma/Myanmar Ledo Road Construction
  • Burma/Myanmar Ledo Road Construction
  • Assam, India
  • 1944/1945
  • open
Native Christian Church
  • Native Christian Church
  • Solomon Islands
  • July 1944
  • open
 
Typical Solomon Island Natives
  • Typical Solomon Island Natives
  • Solomon Island
  • 1944
  • open
'Once Upon a Time' Headhunters
  • "Once Upon a Time" Headhunters
  • India/Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
Punjabis
  • Punjabis
  • India/Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
 
Arab Travelers
  • Arab Travelers
  • India/Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
Indian Newsstand
  • Indian Newsstand
  • India/Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
Stopping Near Lahore - Most Beautiful City in India
  • Stopping Near Lahore - Most Beautiful City in India
  • Lahore, Pakistan
  • 1945
  • open
 
Bird and Dome
  • Bird and Dome
  • Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Iranian friend in Iranian Swimming pool, Sports Stadium
  • Iranian friend in Iranian Swimming pool, Sports Stadium
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1945
  • open
Soldiers at Sports Stadium
  • Soldiers at Sports Stadium
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1945
  • open
 
Man Inja
  • Man Inja
  • Andimeshk, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Andimeshk - 44
  • Andimeshk - 44
  • Andimeshk, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
Street in Teheran
  • Street in Teheran
  • Tehran, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
 
Hossain Ahmedi - Interpreter and General All Around Man
  • Hossain Ahmedi - Interpreter and General All Around Man
  • Ahwaz, Iran
  • 1944
  • open
USS General Anderson 'On Deck'
  • USS General Anderson "On Deck"
  •  
  • October 1945
  • open
Below Deck - US.S. General Anderson - Oct 1945
  • Below Deck - US.S. General Anderson - Oct 1945
  • Below Deck
  • October 1945
  • open
 
Entry into Port of N.Y.
  • Entry into Port of N.Y.
  • New York, NY
  • November 1945
  • open
Mapping Aubrey J. Weeks Photos on the Persian Corridor
  • Mapping Aubrey J. Weeks Photos on the Persian Corridor
  • Iran
  • Undated
  • open