As Black History Month comes to an end, it is important that we remember the African-Americans who fought and died for America during its many wars. Few people know that the man credited to be the first one to die in the Revolutionary War was a Black man by the name of Crispus Attucks. During the War of 1812, Black soldiers helped defeat the British in New Orleans.
By the end of the Civil War, 10% of the union forces were Black. The 54th regiment, which was an all Black fighting unit, was immortalized in the movie “Glory” and fought a number of important battles, eventually losing more than half of their troops. Two of Frederick Douglass’s sons also fought in the Civil War and Harriet Tubman severed as a scout for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
During World War I, Black soldiers were given full citizenship, although they still fought in segregated units. Many credit Black soldiers for bringing Jazz music to Europe and France.
In World War II, Black soldiers had an increased presence. The NAACP pushed for the War Department to form the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps, otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee airmen were the only U.S. unit to sink a German destroyer. Like the 54th Regiment, the Tuskegee Airmen were immortalized in a movie of the same name.
The Marines first opened themselves to Black volunteers in 1942. To the dismay of the Marines only 63 African Americans joined.
Black officer, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell C. Johnson, decided that he would actively recruit Black Marines. Due to his efforts African Americans began joining the Marines at a rate of more than 1,000 a month in 1943.
Despite the opposition to the Vietnam war from Black leaders and athletes like Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali, many Black soldiers both volunteered and were drafted to fight in the Vietnam war. Colin Powell joined the ROTC at City College and would go on to be a Captain in Vietnam, later becoming a major. Powell would go on to be National Security Adviser (1987–1989), Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993) and eventually as Secretary of State for George W. Bush in 2001.
Another Black Vietnam veteran who would go on to success was Col. Charles F. Bolden. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1968, he became a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, flying over 100 sorties in Vietnam. Bolden’s flying skills made him an ideal candidate for NASA, which he joined as an astronaut in 1981. After a long and impressive career as an astronaut, President Barack Obama name Bolden the head of NASA.