A Desegregated Facility in a Segregated World

Desegregated patients at Bushnell Hospital
Patients were not segregated by race or ethnicity at Bushnell Hospital. One patient stated, “Our blood looks the same.”

Bushnell General Military Hospital was an unusual facility for the 1940s. At a time when the military and society in general was still segregated—as were many other military hospitals—Bushnell did not separate patients by race. This was probably due to practicality since the majority of patients were white, and segregated wards may have had empty, wasted beds. One German POW at Bushnell expressed surprise to find himself mixing with many Hispanic patients as well as Japanese Americans and African Americans.

Whites Only sign
Signs like this one in Ohio were common throughout the United States during World War II, including in Utah.

Patients were said to express the idea, “Our blood looks the same,” but because this attitude didn’t extend to the larger community, minority groups—especially African American servicemen and women—often found themselves in awkward situations, not able to eat at local restaurants or find lodging in local hotels.

Wounded African-American soldier
A wounded African American soldier of the Buffalo Infantry Division receives treatment.

This was a time when Utah and most other states still had laws that forbade various races from intermarrying (anti-miscegenation laws), so some of the social activities planned for the soldiers were segregated, with dances held specifically for black soldiers. Otherwise, patients had the opportunity to work, play, eat, and bunk alongside people whose backgrounds were very different from their own.

The wounded American soldier pictured on the left served with the 92nd Infantry Division, which was designated as a “colored,” or segregated, unit. The division was called the Buffalo Division after the famous black cavalrymen of the late 1800s. Though the black soldiers served in a segregated unit, those who were moved to Bushnell were treated in desegregated wards alongside patients of European, Latino, Japanese, and other ancestries.

Sources for this Page

Abby Callard, “Memoirs of a World War II Buffalo Soldier,” https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/memoirs-of-a-world-war-ii-buffalo-soldier-149170923/.
Joe McQueen, “Oral History,” Business at the Crossroads, University Archives, Stewart Library; Weber State University, https://cdm.weber.edu/digital/collection/WEBDA_OH/id/97.
“Ostrich Myth Explodes,” Utah Daily Chronicle, October 19, 1944.
Allan Kent Powell, “Utah and World War II,” Utah Historical Quarterly 73, no. 2 (2005): 108-131.
“Buffalo Soldiers: the 92nd in Italy,” Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-buffalosoldiers.html.