A Brief Account of African American U.S. Military History

At the beginning of Black History Month, we begin with a brief but very engaging video of African American service in the United States Military from before we became a free country to the present. The service of African Americans has always been constant, committed, and heroic, despite their early conditions as slaves and the realities of discrimination, racism, and injustices they faced.

As you will see, African Americans have served the cause of freedom from the beginning. Freedom, and all of the benefits that are associated with that noble virtue, are a universal desire in all human beings, but it had a unique and intimately powerful place in the history of African Americans as a result of the institution of slavery and the after-effects that followed slavery that still linger in forms of discrimination and racism.

Photo: YouTube/U.S. Army Website Videos

While Americans won their freedom by defeating England in the Revolutionary War, the slavery that existed at the time of the Revolution continued for another 89 years and would eventually be a cause for the Civil War. That dream of freedom so longed for and fought for by African Americans would be finally realized, at least legally, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on January 31, 1865.

One of the first casualties in the lead-up to the final outbreak of the Revolutionary War was a free Black man, a sailor who was formerly enslaved, by the name of Crispus Attucks. He and two others fell instantly in Boston on March 5, 1770. Five others were wounded, two of whom died later from their injuries.

Photo: YouTube/U.S. Army Website Videos

Crispus’s father is said to have been Prince Yonger, a slave who was brought to America, while his mother is thought to be Nancy Attucks, a Natick Indian. Crispus was owned by one William Brown of Farmington, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He had apparently run away and was mentioned in an advertisement concerning him in the Boston Gazette on Oct. 2, 1750. There were twenty years between his running away and his death when he and others were protesting British rule in Boston. It is believed that he had spent those twenty years as a whaler on whaling ships.

Photo: YouTube/U.S. Army Website Videos

Many free and enslaved Black people fought against the British with their American counterparts during the war. When Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves and permitted their enlistment in the military forces of the Union, tens of thousands of those former slaves joined in segregated units to fight for the completion of their freedom. The famous Colored Regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, for example, fought at the Battle of Fort Wagner, demonstrating their great courage, determination, and willingness to fight to all the world. One of those who fought there was Sgt. William Carney of New Bedford, MA, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for “most distinguished gallantry in action.”

Photo: YouTube/U.S. Army Website Videos

After the Civil War, Black people continued to serve in segregated units. The most famous of these would be known as the Buffalo Soldiers. During the Spanish-American War, one of those Buffalo Soldier units, the 10th Cavalry, would win fame and the day during the famous charge up San Juan Hill. It is said that the courage and skill of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers actually saved the day during that charge.

In WWI, the famous Harlem Hell Fighters, the all-Black 369th Infantry, fought on the front lines longer than any other American unit. They would come home only to be confronted with the continuing and burdensome realities of racial discrimination. That is a story all by itself.

Photo: YouTube/U.S. Army Website Videos

In WWII, Dory Miller was a cook on the battleship USS West Virginia on Sunday, December 7, 1942, at Pearl Harbor. He was doing laundry below decks when the attack began. His heroics during the attack would be awarded the first Medal of Honor of WWII.

The video will detail more of this history as you continue up to the present.

The contributions of African Americans to U.S. Military history are many and profoundly important. We will be looking at more of those contributions over the course of this month.

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