African Americans at Camp Columbia

Officer Candidate School

During 1942/1943 the Americans established the Officer Candidate School (OCS), on the other side of the railway in Wacol, in the area known as Camp area 3.  They  provided training for nine different army branches and was of the most comprehensive schools of its kind in the world. They provide training for: infantry, field artillery, ant-aircraft artillery, engineers, ordnance, quartermasters, chemical warfare service and Air Corps Administration. The courses lasted 13 weeks. Interestingly this school was the US Army’s first experiment with the integration of Black and White students, they lived separately but studied together.

The American Non Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) who attending the school rented the Oxley Progress Hall for their club. Trucks from Wacol provided for the transport. The ‘real’ officers did of course have their own club within the Camp 3 area. It trained close to 6000 officers (of which only 152 were Black)  in its short period of life and was closed in June 1945.

Capt. E. H. Lowe, was the first black graduate from the Officer Candidate School. Her he, pins insignia on another proud African American, 2nd Lt. James B. Morris, from Des Moines, Iowa at OCS graduation exercise held at Camp Columbia, Brisbane, on 29 Jun 43. Source Signal Corps Photo: GHQ SWPA SC 43 7037 (T/4 Harold Hoffman)

Segregation also at Camp Columbia

At this time there still was strict segregation in the USA between white and black people. The Blacks were limited to Freeman Camp, a rather ambiguous name for this place. There are many reports from locals that Blacks were treaty badly by the white officers and that they were often shot at and even killed. Locals several times hid Blacks who were chased by white officers. An estimated 200 hundred Black soldiers were camped, unlike their white colleagues they were not allowed to wear weapons.

Brisbane was also segregated with the whites soldiers on the north side of the river and the African Americans in South Brisbane. The later part of town became very popular among the Brisbanites as the black music and dance attracted many people to the area.

On the corner of Archerfield Road and what is now Azalea Street (now McEwan Park) was Freeman Camp, with a guard hut on that same corner. Freeman Road to the north of it is a reminder of that camp. There were barracks and tents as well as a canteen, mess hall and a very large motor pool. There was also one of those famous igloo shaped hut (Nissan Hut) which was used as a picture theater and locals were always welcome to join in. As a consequence of the American segregation policy Darra was declared a ‘black’ area.

See also:

The Hospital, Officer Candidate School, Muckly, Darra, Freeman, Motor Pools

Scroll to Top