The legacy of military heroism and accomplishment by African Americans is in truth a source of pride for African Americans in all walks of life. But the changes the military has gone through to live with the presence of black men in uniform has very much mirrored the conflicts for integration in society at large.
The account of truly heroic achievements by African American soldiers is much as honorable as any in military history. They include…
* March 3, 1770 – The very first American to die in the Revolutionary war was a black soldier named Crispus Attucks. He was killed when British soldiers fired on a peaceful gathering in Boston, Massachusetts beginning the war that lead to America’s independence.
* In World War II – Vernon J. Baker assumed leadership in assaulting dug in German machine gun emplacements destroying 6 and killing twenty six German soldiers. He received the Congressional Metal of Honor for his courage.
* December 7, 1941 – On the horrendous Pearl Harbor attacks, a black galley cook by the name of Dorie Miller on board the USS West Virginia rushed to the deck as his fellow soldiers lay injured and dying all around him. He valiantly took charge of the machine gun emplacement on the deck and fought off the dive bombers keeping them from further killing and injuring his comrades in arms. For his bravery, Dorie Miller received the first Silver Star of World War II.
These are just a couple of the hundreds of stories of courage and great service to country made by black men throughout America’s history. Inside the military, racial prejudice has long gone by the wayside because when men endure side by side in battle, they’re brothers first, fellow soldiers second and people of race a remote third if at all. Battles have a way of equalizing all men and true soldiers know that. So the military has been a chance to cultivate equality and acceptance since it is a culture where being a good solider is constantly more significant than any petty prejudices any man may carry.
But it took longer for the armed forces as an institution to catch up with what soldiers knew instinctively on the battlefield – that all men are equal when they’re brothers in arms. Finally on July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order Number 9981 which declared in no uncertain terms what the U.S. Military’s policy was bearing on racial segregations…
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”
We can be thankful for fearless leadership such as President Truman’s and for the leadership of the military establishment to lay out the tone for the eventual social condemnation of segregation. While it is too bad that American has had to sustain an army to fight her enemies over the centuries, there’s no question that the high ethical and moral conduct that is necessary for military men to perform in combat follows those men into society when their service to their country is done.
And that is among the many reasons that the integration of the military dictated that not only would racism no longer be allowed by the American military, it would soon be deemed ignorant and unacceptable in American society as well. While there’s still work to be done to make that dream a fact, achievements like these we have laid the groundwork for a better world of integration for all American citizens.