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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Col. West A. Hamilton: Soldier at Heart

Holdings at the Anacostia Community Museum include the personal papers of individuals with national or local reputations.  Among these materials are the papers of Col. West A. Hamilton, a soldier of note whose accomplishments garnered recognition both nationally and from the local black middle class community in Washington, D. C. 

Colonel West A. Hamilton was born in 1866 to John A. Hamilton, a missionary and social worker, and Julia West Hamilton, a prominent club woman and activist in Washington, D. C.   Hamilton committed his life to military and public services.    He enlisted in the District of Columbia National Guard in 1905.  On the Mexican border, Colonel Hamilton served with General John “Black Jack” Pershing during the 1916 Mexican Border Campaign.  Hamilton served in both World Wars I and II and received several awards and decorations.  It was during World War I that he commanded the 372nd Infantry and was awarded the Croix-de-Guerre “for his leadership and courage in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.”  In World War II, he commanded the 366th Infantry in North Africa and Italy.  Called a “soldier at heart,” Hamilton was honored at the White House in 1983 and received an honorary promotion of Brigadier General by the District of Columbia National Guards.

Colonel West A. Hamilton
Scurlock Studio Records
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

After his retirement in 1949, Colonel Hamilton focused his attention on helping others by actively participating in several civic and educational organizations in the District of Columbia.  In 1951 he was appointed as a member of the D. C. Board of Education and participated in the formulation of policies to implement the desegregation of the public schools of D.C.  During the 1960s, Hamilton was criticized by some African Americans for not doing enough during his tenure on the school board to assist blacks.  Regardless, Hamilton was admired by many for his long military service and compassion for helping others through his community service. 

Colonel Hamilton married twice but never had children. He died in 1985 just shy one year from his 100th birthday.

The majority of Colonel West A. Hamilton papers at the Anacostia Community Museum Archives document his involvement with Washington D.C.’s educational system.  There are also materials and photographs from his long serving military career and the Hamilton Printing Company he established with his brother Percival in 1910.     

Jennifer Morris

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