FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The theme of this year's Black History Month is Civil rights in America. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

However, the passage of this law might never have happened if it had not been for millions of African-Americans who served their nation as Soldiers throughout the nations history.

Once a person has demonstrated their commitment to the nation by serving in the military, there can be little challenge by those who doubt the quality of African-Americans to deny them their civil rights, said Dr. Isaac Hampton II, command historian, U.S. Army South.

The civil rights movement, which gained momentum in the 1950s after the formal desegregation of the armed forces, had its origins during World War I, when African-American Soldiers serving in Europe realized the rest of the world was not like America.

When the Soldiers came back from France, they had a new mentality, said Hampton. The new negro, as they were known, wanted change.

African-American participation in World War II would further push the struggle for civil rights forward, as they launched the double V campaign in 1942. This campaign called for two victories; the first over the Axis powers and the second that African-Americans receive full citizenship rights at home.

Throughout the war and post-war period African-Americans used their growing political power to demand integration of the armed forces.

But mostly, said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the militarys integration, there was the quiet service of black servicemen who willingly served their country though their country was not willing to defend their rights.

This goal was realized with the passing of Executive Order 9981 in 1948, which formally desegregated the armed forces.

Ninety-Nine Eighty One was a major flashpoint in history, said Hampton. One of our most famous and hallowed institutions in America is taking this step to integrate. This was an extremely important step for our nation.

It would take nearly eight years to fully desegregate the Army.

The story of African-American Soldiers up to desegregation was in the words of one former Soldier, we were needed, but never wanted, said Hampton. There was a cultural idea that blacks do not deserve the honor of leading troops into combat.

The last segregated units had integrated by 1956 and the momentum for equality and civil rights was quickly moving to the forefront of American society.

Page last updated Wed February 26th, 2014 at 08:29