Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Draft Registration Day in Birmingham

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first military draft registration in the United States. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act of 1917 into law which required men between the ages of 21 to 31 years old to register for military service. Registering for the draft was a major event as a parade was held in Birmingham, and 75,000 people lined the streets. General Leonard Wood was the special guest and raised the American flag over Capital Park (which is now Linn Park).

Twenty-four million men registered for the draft, which constituted 23 percent of the U.S. population. In Birmingham, registration officials estimated that 25,000 men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. The registration form required 12 questions including your occupation, employer, previous military service, marital status, dependents, physical description, and any reason for seeking an exemption to the draft. Birmingham was the only city that had African American registrars and separate registration locations. To denote that a registrant was African American, the left hand corner of the registration card was cut off. Today, registering for the Selective Service is a simple online form that just requires your name, address, birthday, and social security number.

The National Archives in Atlanta holds the originals of all 24 million WWI registration cards, and here is a selection of notable registrations including Louis Armstrong, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, and others. If you had a male ancestor born between 1872 and 1900, they were required by law to register for the draft. You can secure a digital copy of their draft registration through our Fold3 and Ancestry databases, which are available at any BPL location. The Southern History Department will be glad to show you how to search for the draft registration card of your ancestor, and we are located on the first floor of the Linn-Henley building at Central Library. For more information, please call the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665. Enjoyed this story? Follow the Southern History Department on Facebook as we explore 100 years ago in Birmingham during the year 1917 each Thursday as part of Throwback Thursday.

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