African-Americans in Military History: Breaking Barriers


[MUSIC PLAYING] One of the first casualties
of the War of Independence was Crispus Attucks, a
black merchant seaman killed in the Boston
Massacre of 1770. Slaves and free black
men fought together in the Continental Army,
but after the revolution African Americans were
largely barred from serving. Some ignored the ban and fought
valiantly in the war of 1820. Among the most famous
black units of the Civil War was the 54th
Massachusetts Regiment whose heroic assault on Fort
Wagner in South Carolina became legendary for the display
of bravery against all odds. Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation prompted thousands of
freed and escaped slaves to fight in the
Union Army and Navy. Their brave efforts helped
to defeat slavery and gain the vote for African Americans. After the War, the
Army maintained a number of black units. In the West, they
helped preserve order on the lawless frontier. Native Americans called
them Buffalo Soldiers. Among their feats in the
Spanish-American War, the all-black 10th
Cavalry regiment. assaulted San Juan Hill. With America’s entry
into the first World War, heroic units of black Soldiers
included the 369th Infantry Regiment. Known as the Harlem
Hell Fighters, they served on the
front lines longer than any other American unit. During the bombing
of Pearl Harbor, Dory Miller an African
American Navy Steward manned a machine gun to
shoot down Japanese zeros. African Americans continue
to server heroically during World War II,
although in segregated units. Nonetheless, the barriers
were slowly being broken. Black women were now able to
enlist in the armed forces. And the number of black officers
was increasing dramatically. Benjamin O. Davis, Senior
had become the country’s first African American
general in 1940. His son, future Air Force
General Benjamin O. Davis, Junior commanded the 332nd
fighter group, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Their outstanding
performance helped to bring an end to
segregation in the military. In 1948, President Truman
issued an executive order directing the military to give
all Soldiers equal treatment and opportunity. “There is no justifiable reason
for discrimination because of ancestry or religion,
or race, or color.” By 1954, the Army had
become the first major US institution to integrate. A decade later during
the Vietnam War, blacks and whites made up an
integrated fighting force. Joe Wynn is a veteran
of the Vietnam era. Joe remembers the early 1970s as
a time of challenge and change. I would have to say there
was racial tension, not only in Vietnam, but in many
other basis stateside as well. We wanted more civil rights,
fair and equal opportunities. Same type of individuals who
are challenging you at home would challenge you
in the military. After Vietnam
black men and women volunteered in large numbers,
and African Americans were rising in the ranks. Samuel Gravely, first
African American admiral in the US Navy. Frank E. Peterson, Junior,
first African American general in the Marines. Hazel Johnson-Brown, first
African American female general in the U.S. Army. General Colin
Powell’s appointment as chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff marked a high point in
an extraordinary legacy of servers. In Operation Desert Storm,
he led US armed forces to the most impressive
victories in military history. Today African Americans continue
to reach for new heights. Like Captain Vernice Armour
who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and became the first
African American female combat pilot. My dad was in the
military, my grandfather was in the military. I’m also standing on very,
very strong shoulders from the people that came
before me– black female pilots, Tuskegee Airmen, General
Petersen, first black aviator in the Marine Corp. African Americans have
valiantly answered the call to defend our
country time and again.

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