[Various places across the U.S., described below. 1944-46]. 357 photographs ranging in size from 2 x 3 inches to 8 x 10 inches; 296 corner-mounted in album, 61 loose. Oblong folio. Red leatherette boards, front board with blindstamped floral pattern. string-tied. Some wear and rubbing to boards. Two album leaves torn with missing fragments, two other album leaves torn and laid in loose; a few photos faded, some with creased edges. Very good overall. Item #WRCAM55495
A substantial collection of photographs taken and collected by Leon Biles, Jr. (inscribed by him on front pastedown with his Minneapolis address), an African- American U.S. Army soldier serving stateside during World War II. Most images are meticulously captioned either in the album or on the verso of the image, including the names of the persons photographed, day and date, and the location (sometimes even the precise address). Roughly half of the images depict other individuals, including photos of Biles' family back in Minnesota, friends, fellow soldiers and sailors (some of whom are relatives), and over 100 photos of of female friends, girlfriends, sweethearts, and acquaintances Biles met in his travels, including several African-American servicewomen (Women's Army Corps). Many of these were taken at or sent to Biles from places around the country where he served, including Gary (Indiana), Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Fort Riley (Kansas), St. Louis, Atlantic City, Boston, Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania), and other places. Some portraits are inscribed to Biles and many depict young women posing casually and playfully. The rest of the album contains portraits of Biles in uniform (including a series where he models all his different uniforms), as well as images of him with friends and family, all carefully captioned by Biles. Biles also took up train and plane spotting in his travels, and the album includes several images of locomotives and airplanes, as well as a few handwritten lists of train routes. Although some black soldiers saw combat during World War II, the vast majority were assigned to all-black quartermaster and engineer units, providing logistical support and distributing supplies and ammunition to troops around the world. President Truman finally desegregated the armed forces in 1948 with Executive Order 9981, and the last all-black unit was disbanded in 1954. Leon Biles, Jr. (1925-93) was born in Minneapolis. He enlisted in the Army in 1943, and according to his notes in the album, was assigned to the 599th "Port" (i.e., Transportation) Company in Indiantown Gap. He left the Army in 1946, but according to Veterans Affairs, he reenlisted during the Korean War, serving in the Air Force from 1950-54. An engaging collection of photos from a man who seems to have had friends around every corner.