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The 332nd Fighter Group attends a briefing in Italy in 1945.

The military history of African Americans spans from the arrival of the first black slaves during the colonial history of the United States to the present day. There has been no war fought by or within the United States in which African Americans did not participate, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the current wars Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other minor conflicts.

Contents

Revolutionary War

African American topics
Category · Portal
Crispus Attucks is seen by some as a patriot of the pre-Revolutionary War era. As part of a rioting mob, he was killed in 1770 during an attack on British soldiers guarding the custom house which came to be known as the Boston Massacre.

African-Americans as slaves and free blacks, served on both sides during the war. Black soldiers served in northern militias from the outset, but this was forbidden in the South, where slave-owners feared arming slaves. Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued an emancipation proclamation in November 1775, promising freedom to runaway slaves who fought for the British; Sir Henry Clinton issued a similar edict in New York in 1779. Over 100,000 slaves escaped to the British lines, although possibly as few as 1,000 served under arms. Many of the rest served as orderlies, mechanics, laborers, servants, scouts and guides, although more than half died in smallpox epidemics that swept the British forces, and many were driven out of the British lines when food ran low. Despite Dunmore's promises, the majority were not given their freedom. Many Black Loyalists' descendants now live in Canada.

In response, and because of manpower shortages, Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army in January 1776. All-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many were slaves promised freedom for serving in lieu of their masters; another all-African-American unit came from Haiti with French forces. At least 5,000 African-American soldiers fought as Revolutionaries, and at least 20,000 served with the British.

Peter Salem and Salem Poor are the most noted of the African American Patriots during this era, while Black Loyalist Colonel Tye became one of the most successful commanders of the war.

Black volunteers also served with various of the South Carolina guerrilla units, including that of the "Swamp Fox", Francis Marion, half of whose force sometimes consisted of free Blacks. These Black troops made a critical difference in the fighting in the swamps, since they were immune to malaria through sickle-cell anemia, and kept Marion's guerrillas effective even when many of his White troops were down with malaria or yellow fever.[1]

War of 1812

Painting of Battle of Lake Erie depicting one of Perry's African American oarsmen in the boat and another African American sailor in the water.[2]

During the War of 1812, about one-quarter of the personnel in the American naval squadrons of the Battle of Lake Erie were black, and portrait renderings of the battle on the wall of the Nation's Capitol and the rotunda of Ohio's Capitol show that blacks played a significant role in it.

No legal restrictions regarding the enlistment of blacks were placed on the Navy because of its chronic shortage of manpower. The law of 1792, which generally prohibited enlistment of blacks in the Army became the United States Army's official policy until 1862. The only exception to this Army policy was Louisiana, which gained an exemption at the time of its purchase through a treaty provision, which allowed it to opt out of the operation of any law, which ran counter to its traditions and customs. Louisiana permitted the existence of separate black militia units which drew its enlistees from freed blacks.

The Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color and a unit of black soldiers from Santo Domingo offered their services and were accepted by General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans, a victory that was achieved after the war was officially over[3].

Mexican War

A number of blacks in the Army during the Mexican War were servants of the officers who received government compensation for the services of their servants or slaves. Also, soldiers from the Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color participated in this war. Blacks also served on a number of naval vessels during the Mexican War, including the U.S.S. Portsmouth, and the U.S.S. Columbus[3].

U.S. Civil War

The history of African Americans in the U.S. Civil War is marked by 186,097 (7,122 officers, 178,975 enlisted)[4] African American men, comprising 163 units, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more African Americans served in the Union Navy. Both free African Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight. On the Confederate side, blacks, both free and slave, were used for labor, but the issue of whether to arm them, and under what terms, became a major source of debate amongst those in the South. On March 13th, 1865 the Confederate Congress enacted a statute to allow the enlistment of African Americans but less than fifty were ever recruited.

A company of 4th USCT


Indian Wars

Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment, 1890

From the 1870s to the early 20th century, African American units were utilized by the United States Government to combat the Native Americans during the Indian Wars. Perhaps the most noted among this group were the Buffalo Soldiers:

At the end of the U.S. Civil War the army reorganized and authorized the formation of two regiments of black cavalry with the designations 9th and 10th U. S. Cavalry. Two regiments of infantry were formed at the same time. These units were composed of black enlisted men commanded by white officers such as Benjamin Grierson, and, occasionally, an African-American officer such as Henry O. Flipper.

From 1866 to the early-1890s these regiments served at a variety of posts in the southwest United States and Great Plains regions. During this period they participated in most of the military campaigns in these areas and earned a distinguished record. Thirteen enlisted men and six officers from these four regiments earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars. In addition to the military campaigns, the "Buffalo Soldiers" served a variety of roles along the frontier from building roads to escorting the U.S. mail.

Spanish American War

Segregated company during the Spanish-American War Camp Wikoff 1898

After the Indian Wars ended in the 1890s, the regiments continued to serve and participated in the Spanish-American War (including the Battle of San Juan Hill), where five more Medals of Honor were earned. They took part in the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico and in the Philippine-American War. The Spanish-American War's General Shafter preferred his "Buffalo Soldiers" to their white counterparts.

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Units

In addition to the African Americans who served in Regular Army units during the Spanish American War, five African American Volunteer Army units and seven African American National Guard units also served.

Volunteer Army:

  • 7th United States Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 8th United States Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 9th United States Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 10th United States Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 11th United States Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)

National Guard:

  • 3rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)[8]
  • Companies A and B, 1st Indiana Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 23rd Kansas Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 3rd North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)
  • 6th Virginia Volunteer Infantry (Colored Troops)

Of these units, only the 9th U.S., 8th Illinois, and 23rd Kansas served outside the United States during the war. All three units served in Cuba and suffered no losses to combat.

World War I

Officers of the 366th Infantry Regiment returning home from World War I service.
Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919

The U.S. armed forces remained segregated through World War I. Still, many African Americans eagerly volunteered to join the Allied cause following America's entry into the war. By the time of the armistice with Germany on November 1918, over 350,000 African Americans had served with the American Expeditionary Force in on the Western Front.

Most African American units were largely relegated to support roles and did not see combat. Still, African Americans played a minor role in America's war effort. One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters", which was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other American unit in the war. 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit.

Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 371st Infantry Regiment that was seconded to the 157 th French Army division called the Red Hand Division in need of reinforcement under the command of the General Mariano Goybet was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor[9]—the only African American to be so honored for actions in World War I. During action in France, Stowers had led an assault on German trenches, continuing to lead and encourage his men even after being twice wounded. Stowers died from his wounds, but his men continued the fight and eventually defeated the German troops. Stowers was recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after his death, but the nomination was, according to the Army, misplaced. Many, believing that the recommendation was intentionally ignored due to institutional racism in the Armed Forces. In 1990, under pressure from Congress, the Department of the Army launched an investigation. Based on findings from this investigation, the Army Decorations Board approved the award of the Medal of Honor to Stowers. On April 24, 1991–73 years after he was killed in action—Stowers' two surviving sisters received the Medal of Honor from President George H.W. Bush at the White House. The success of the investigation leading to Stowers' Medal of Honor later sparked a similar review that resulted in seven African Americans being awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in World War II.

Units

Some of the most notable African American units which served in World War I were:

A complete list of African-American units that served in the war is published in the book Willing Patriots: Men of Color in World War One. The book is cited in the "Further Reading" section of this article.

Second Italo-Abyssinian War

On October 4, 1935, Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia. Being the only non-colonized African country besides Liberia, the invasion of Ethiopia caused a profound response amongst African Americans.[12] African Americans organized to raise money for medical supplies, and many volunteered to fight for the African kingdom.[13] Within eight months, however, Ethiopia was overpowered by the advanced weaponry and mustard gas of the Italian forces.

Many years later Haile Selassie I would comment on the efforts: "We can never forget the help Ethiopia received from Negro Americans during the crisis...It moved me to know that Americans of African descent did not abandon their embattled brothers, but stood by us."[13]

Spanish Civil War

African-American activist and World War I veteran Oliver Law, fighting in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, is believed to have been the first African-American officer to command an integrated unit of soldiers.[14]

World War II

We call upon the president and congress to declare war on Japan and racial prejudice in our country. Certainly we should be strong enough to whip them both.
—-The Pittburgh Courier[15]
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins Navy Cross on Doris Miller, at ceremony on board warship in Pearl Harbor, 27 May, 1942

Despite a high enlistment rate in the U.S. Army, African Americans were not treated equally. Racial tensions existed. At parades, church services, in transportation and canteens the races were kept separate.

Many soldiers of color served their country with distinction during World War II. There were 125,000 African Americans who were overseas in World War II. Famous segregated units, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and 761st Tank Battalion proved their value in combat, leading to desegregation of all U.S. Armed Forces by order of President Harry S. Truman in July 1948 via Executive Order 9981.

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. served as commander of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during the War. He later went on to become the first African American general in the United States Air Force. His father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., had been the first African American Brigadier General in the Army (1940).

Doris Miller, a Navy mess attendant, was the first African American recipient of the Navy Cross, awarded for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller had voluntarily manned an anti-aircraft gun and fired at the Japanese aircraft, despite having no prior training in the weapon's use.

In 1944, the Golden Thirteen became the Navy's first African American commissioned officers. Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. became a comissioned officer the same year; he would later be the first African American to command a US warship, and the first to be an admiral.

In 1945, Frederick C. Branch became the first African-American United States Marine Corps officer.

Units

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in United States military history; they flew with distinction during World War II. Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by photographer Toni Frissell, March 1945.
Several Tuskegee airmen at Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.
12th AD soldier with German prisoners of war, April 1945.

Some of the most notable African American Army units which served in World War II were:

      • 333rd Field Artillery Battalion
      • 349th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 350th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 351st Field Artillery Battalion
      • 353rd Field Artillery Battalion
      • 578th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 593rd Field Artillery Battalion
      • 594th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 595th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 596th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 597th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 598th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 599th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 600th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 686th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 777th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 795th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 930th Field Artillery Battalion, Illinois National Guard
      • 931st Field Artillery Battalion, Illinois National Guard
      • 969th Field Artillery Battalion
      • 971st Field Artillery Battalion
      • 973rd Field Artillery Battalion
      • 993rd Field Artillery Battalion
      • 999th Field Artillery Battlaion
    • Tank Destroyer Units
      • 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 646th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 649th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 659th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 669th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 679th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 795th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 828th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 829th Tank Destroyer Battalion
      • 846th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Two segregated units were organized by the United States Marine Corps:

  • 51st Defense Battalion. (Composite)
  • 52nd Defense Battalion. (Composite)

Medal of Honor recipients

On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton, in a White House ceremony, awarded the nation's highest military honor—the Medal of Honor—to seven African-American servicemen who had served in World War II.[23]

The only living recipient was:

The posthumous recipients were:

Integration of the armed forces

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military and mandating equality of treatment and opportunity. It also made it illegal, per military law, to make a racist remark. Desegregation of the military was not complete for several years, and all-black Army units persisted well into the Korean War. The last all-black unit wasn't disbanded until 1954.

In 1950, Lieutenant Leon Gilbert of the still-segregated 24th Infantry Regiment was court martialed and sentenced to death for refusing to obey the orders of a white officer while serving in the Korean War. Gilbert maintained that the orders would have meant certain death for himself and the men in his command. The case led to worldwide protests and increased attention to segregation and racism in the U.S. military. Gilbert's sentence was commuted to twenty and later seventeen years of imprisonment; he served five years and was released.

The integration commanded by Truman's 1948 Executive Order extended to schools and neighborhoods as well as military units. Fifteen years after the Executive Order, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara issued Department of Defense Directive 5120.36. "Every military commander", the Directive mandates, "has the responsibility to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them, not only in areas under his immediate control, but also in nearby communities where they may gather in off-duty hours."[24] While the directive was issued in 1963, it was not until 1967 that the first non-military establishment was declared off-limits. In 1970 the requirement that commanding officers first obtain permission from the Secretary of Defense was lifted, and areas were allowed to be declared housing areas off limits to military personnel by their commanding officer.[25]

Korean War

Jesse L. Brown became the U.S. Navy's first black aviator in October 1948. He was killed when his plane was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was unable to eject from his crippled F4U Corsair and crash-landed successfully. His injuries and damage to his aircraft prevented him from leaving the plane. A white squadron mate, Thomas Hudner, crash-landed his F4U Corsair near Brown and attempted to extricate Brown but could not and Brown died of his injuries. Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts. The U.S. Navy honored Jesse Brown by naming an escort ship after him—the U.S.S. Jesse L. Brown.[26]

Vietnam War

See also: List of African American MoH recipients from the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War saw many great accomplishments by many African Americans, including twenty who received the Medal of Honor for their actions.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, for a "very special kind of courage—the unarmed heroism of compassion and service to others." Joel was the first living African American to receive the Medal of Honor since the Mexican–American War. He was a medic who in 1965 saved the lives of U.S. troops under ambush in Vietnam and defied direct orders to stay to the ground, walking through Viet Cong gunfire and tending to the troops despite being shot twice himself. The Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is dedicated to his honor.[27]

On August 21, 1968, with the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor, U.S. Marine James Anderson, Jr. became the first African-American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions and sacrifice of life.

On December 10, 1968, U.S. Army Captain Riley Leroy Pitts became the first African American commissioned officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor. His medal was presented posthumously to his wife, Mrs. Eula Pitts, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Post-Vietnam to present day

General Colin Powell briefs President George H. W. Bush and his advisors on the progress of the Gulf War

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Army General Colin Powell to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making Powell the highest ranking officer in the United States military. Powell was the first, and is so far the only, African American to hold that position. The Chairman serves as the chief military adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense. During his tenure Powell oversaw the 1989 United States invasion of Panama to oust General Manuel Noriega and the 1990 to 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. General Powell's four-year term as Chairman ended in 1993.

General William E. "Kip" Ward was officially nominated as the first commander of the new United States Africa Command on July 10, 2007 and assumed command on October 1, 2007. He is currently the active military's only black four-star general.

The American military and Affirmative Action

Since the end of military segregation and the creation of an all-volunteer army, the American military has seen the representation of African Americans in its ranks rise precipitously.[28]

Military history of African Americans in popular culture

The following is a list of notable African American military members or units in popular culture.

Release Date (or Year) Name (or event) Notability Reference
1945 (1945) Wings for This Man a "propaganda" short about the Tuskegee Airmen was produced by the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces. The film was narrated by Ronald Reagan. [29]
1989 (1989) Glory film featuring the 54th Union regiment composed of African American soldiers. Starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick
January 31, 1992 (1992-01-31) Family Matters
ABC TV series
In the episode entitled "Brown Bombshell", Estelle (portrayed by actress Rosetta LeNoire) is determined to share the stories of her late fighter-pilot husband and World War II's Tuskegee Airmen to an uninterested Winslow clan. Eventually, she is invited to share her stories to Eddie's American history class. [30]
1996 (1996) The Tuskegee Airmen Produced and aired by HBO and starring Laurence Fishburne. [31]
1997 (1997) G.I. Joe action figure series The Tuskegee Airmen are represented. [32]
1999 (1999) Mutiny TV made movie of the 1944 Port Chicago disaster
2004 (2004) Silver Wings and Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly this documentary film was the first film to feature information regarding the "Freeman Field Mutiny", the struggle of 101 African-American officers arrested for entering a white officer's club. [33]
May 17, 2005 (2005-05-17) Red Tails George Lucas announced he was planning a film about the Tuskegee Airmen. In his release Lucas says, "They were the only escort fighters during the war that never lost a bomber so they were, like, the best." [34]
Wild Blue Book, by Stephen Ambrose where the Tuskegee Airmen were mentioned and honoured. [35]
Willy's Cut & Shine a play by Michael Bradford depicting African American World War II soldiers and the troubles they encounter upon returning home to the Deep South.
2010 (2010) For Love of Liberty a PBS documentary television series that portrays African-American servicemen and women and their dedicated allegiance to the United States military. [36]

See also

References

  1. ^ Robert Asprey, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History. 1994.
  2. ^ U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > Battle of Lake Erie
  3. ^ a b African American History & the Civil War(CWSS)
  4. ^ Herbert Aptheker Negro Casualties in the Civil War The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 32, No. 1. (Jan., 1947), pp. 12.
  5. ^ a b Historic California Posts: Camp Lockett, http://www.militarymuseum.org/CpLockett.html, retrieved 2008-01-17 
  6. ^ The 28th Cavalry: The U.S. Army's Last Horse Cavalry Regiment, http://www.buffalosoldiers-lawtonftsill.org/28-cav.htm, retrieved 2007-04-24 
  7. ^ Defending the Border: The Cavalry at Camp Lockett, http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/93spring/border.htm, retrieved 2008-01-17 
  8. ^ McCard, Harry Stanton; Turnley, Henry (1899), History of the Eighth Illinois United States Volunteers, Chicago: E. F. Harman & Co., http://www.archive.org/details/historyofeighthi00mcca 
  9. ^ Freddie Stowers,Corporal, United States Army
  10. ^ Unknown (1919), Complete History of the Colored Soldiers in the World War, New York: Bennett & Churchill 
  11. ^ Sweeney, W. Allison (1919), History of the American Negro in the Great World War, http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/16598 
  12. ^ Aric Putnam Ethiopia is Now:J. A. Rogers and the Rhetoric of Black Anticolonialism During the Great Depression Rhetoric & Public Affairs - Volume 10, Number 3, Fall 2007, p. 419
  13. ^ a b Gerald A. Danzer, J. Jorge Klor De Alva, Larry S. Krieger (2003). The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century. McDougal Littell. 
  14. ^ Rowley, Hazel (2008). Richard Wright: The Life and Times. University of Chicago Press. p. 97. ISBN 0226730387. http://books.google.com/books?id=uvbJ-FhhLNgC. 
  15. ^ The Pittsburgh Courier December 13, 1941 pg. 1
  16. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated the 46th Field Artillery Group.
  17. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated as the 333rd Field Artillery Group.
  18. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated as the 349th Field Artillery Group.
  19. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated as the 350th Field Artillery Regiment
  20. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated the 351st Field Artillery Group.
  21. ^ Subsequently, unit reorganized and redesignated the 353rd Field Artillery Group
  22. ^ Unit subsequently reorganized and redesignated the 578th Field Artillery Group
  23. ^ "World War II African American Medal of Honor Recipients". United States Army. http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/mohb.htm. 
  24. ^ Department of Defense Directive 5120.36
  25. ^ Heather Antecol and Deborah Cobb-Clark, Racial and Ethnic Harassment in Local Communities. October 4, 2005. p 8
  26. ^ "USS Jesse L. Brown". Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-j/de1089.htm. 
  27. ^ "Who is Lawrence Joel?". Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum - Winston-Salem, North Carolina. http://www.ljvm.com/lawrencejoel.html. 
  28. ^ John Sibley Butler. Affirmative Action in the Military Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 523, Affirmative Action Revisited (Sep., 1992), pg. 196.
  29. ^ Wings for This Man at the Internet Movie Database
  30. ^ "TV.com Family Matters Episodes: Season 3". http://www.tv.com/family-matters/show/474/episode_guide.html?season=3&tag=season_dropdown;dropdown;2. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  31. ^ The Tuskegee Airmen at the Internet Movie Database
  32. ^ 1997 G.I. Joe Classic Collection
  33. ^ Siver Wings and Civil Rights: The Flight to Fly
  34. ^ Exclusive: Lucas looks to the future
  35. ^ Ambrose, Stephen Edward The Wild Blue: the men and boys who flew the B-24s over Germany, Simon and Schuster, 2001, Chapter 9, p. 27
  36. ^ For Love of Liberty

Further reading

External links


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