I'm honored to be speaking here at [name of event] and to have a chance to reflect on the rich heritage of African Americans.<br/><br/>That legacy is defined by great hardships and great triumphs. It is a legacy made strong through the bonds of family and communities working together for a common goal. And it's a legacy of people who understand what it is to have to fight for what you believe in. It's important to remember and pay respect to this legacy, because it's built the foundation of a people so strong that no matter the odds, they will not be defeated.<br/><br/>The people gathered here represent a wide range of that legacy. Some of you remember the Civil Rights movement and some of you participated in it. Some of you are too young to remember when those struggles were raging, but have fought battles in your own lives. I want to tell you about a Soldier who was not involved in the Civil Rights movement, but who has a warrior's spirit.<br/><br/>Warrant Officer Donnell O. McIntosh Jr., a legal administrator with Headquarters and Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, helped save the lives of two Soldiers August 3, 2003 when he was deployed to Iraq with his unit. During a resupply mission in central Baghdad, Donnell's convoy was ambushed and he ran to his own vehicle to attempt to radio for medical evacuation. When that failed, Donnell returned to the ambush site and assisted the wounded Soldiers into a nearby store. Donnell then provided medical attention while the Soldiers waited for medical evacuation.<br/><br/>For his actions, Donnell was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device. I honor Donnell because it takes great courage to answer the call to duty during a time of war. Donnell is just one person in a long legacy of African American men and women who have served in America's military. African Americans have served the nation in every war since the American Revolution, and served bravely and to date, 86 African Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor.<br/><br/>During Black History Month we celebrate a community of people who have fought to defend our nation and who have maintained dignity, faith and a vibrant culture despite incredible odds. That culture has produced great leaders and people who have stood up to challenges so great, it's amazing to think that personal courage can run that deeply.<br/><br/>As Martin Luther King once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."<br/><br/>Throughout history, African Americans have struggled through some of America's most challenging times, when the nation confronted discrimination and racism.<br/><br/>The struggle for fair treatment was fought in every corner of American society, even in our military. The Army acted as one of the main proponents of change by being one of the first organizations to demand integration, much sooner than private organizations or the public education system. But even the Army had its times of discrimination, and it took bold people standing up for their beliefs to clear the way.<br/><br/>You may have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers, but there are so many more. One unit who struggled during segregation was the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, whose deeds were immortalized in the movie Glory. It is amazing to think that these men had the conviction to fight a war at the same time they battled racism within their own ranks.<br/><br/>There are other units who must be recognized like the "Hell Fighters" from Harlem. This unit, made up of New York National Guardsmen consolidated into the 369th Infantry Regiment, fought with the French in the muddy trenches of World War I. The "Hell Fighters" earned a reputation as a vicious foe, because they fought relentlessly and never lost a trench, gave up a foot of captured ground or lost a Soldier taken prisoner. The entire unit was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (Craw duh Gehr) for their actions.<br/><br/>Another unit worthy of note is the "triple nickel", the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. The unit was started during World War II, and became the first black airborne unit. Some people tried to stop African American Soldiers from going to jump school, so the men of the Triple Nickel first had to prove that they could be paratroopers like anyone else, and prove it they did. At that time, the Japanese were sending balloons with flammable material over the forests of the west coast and starting massive forest fires. The unit was tasked as 'smoke jumpers' on the Pacific coast to fight the forest fires. Those men cleared the way for other black paratroopers by their actions, and their success was forged in the heat of those forests.<br/><br/>In 1951, just a few years after the 555th cleared the way for Black paratroopers, a young Airborne Infantry officer, Roscoe Robinson jr., graduated from West Point and went to his first assignment with the 188th Airborne Infantry Regiment. Twenty five years later, he became the first African American commander of the 82nd Airborne, and in 1985 General Roscoe Robinson jr. retired after serving 34 years and distinguishing himself as the first Black four star general.<br/><br/>Gen. Robinson was just one of a legion of Soldiers who would clear the way for others with their accomplishments and sheer tenacity. During World War II, when the United States was suffering heavy casualties on multiple fronts, a call went out for volunteer riflemen to fill the ranks of the Infantry. There were so many African American volunteers, that the leadership actually put a limit on the number of Black Soldiers they deployed. They feared that such a rapid integration would compromise the cohesiveness of units.<br/><br/>But there was no doubt that the time had come for the Army to recognize the great accomplishments and bravery of Black Soldiers. After seeing the tenacity of Soldiers like the Hell Fighters, Army leadership recognized the need for change. It took a while, but the call for change was answered because African American Soldiers stood up and refused to be treated as second class. That recognition was earned. It was paid for with the blood of Black Soldiers who answered the call to duty.<br/><br/>On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981. It officially ended segregation in the Armed Forces. However, it took a while for the words on paper to have real power over the way the Army was organized, and it took many brave Soldiers standing up for what was right to make that change possible.<br/><br/>Sadly, desegregation was also brought about by bloodshed. During the Korean War when the Army was taking heavy casualties, units desperately needed reinforcements. Commanders who had formerly been against integration decided it didn't matter what color a Soldier's skin might be as long as he was a good Soldier. So as white Soldiers fell from the ranks, African American Soldiers stepped up, and fought as hard as any who had gone before. They proved on the battlefield that they would not back down - and they would not cease fighting until they succeeded.<br/><br/>By July 1953, five years after President Truman officially ended segregation in the military, ninety eight percent of the Armed forces were integrated. These changes came in a time of great upheaval, one year before Brown vs. the Board of Education dismantled segregation in public schools and twelve years before legislation would be passed to protect African Americans' right to vote.<br/><br/>So in the same time that civil rights workers were struggling to desegregate schools and lunch counters, and securing the right to vote, there was an equally important battle going on in the ranks of the Army. It took individual people digging down to find the strength to say this isn't right, and we will never accept defeat. It was not a victory brought about by one person acting alone. It took a veritable army of people willing to work together for a common goal.<br/><br/>Recently, America paused to honor the passing of one of its heroes, civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Her courage helped spark the bus boycott, and focused the attention of a nation on the injustice occurring in Montgomery. It takes great courage to stand alone and say what you believe in. But her brave spirit helped ignite a movement. As Fannie Lou Hamer said it, she was "sick and tired of being sick and tired."<br/><br/>Today we don't know the names and faces of every person who fought against injustice, but we know that without them, the Civil Rights movement never would have happened. Every one of those people had to make a conscious decision that they would win the battle over apathy, fatalism and fear.<br/><br/>United, the Black community would not be conquered. Together they attacked the injustice that had been the status quo in America for 400 years, and they defeated it in less than a century. They took on the system of racism that walled them in all sides, and with each act of personal courage dismantled it brick by brick, until they sent it crashing down.<br/><br/>What is it that makes people keep fighting against inequality despite all odds' Its strength and perseverance. It's that deep rooted, internal strength that says, "I will never accept defeat." Just like in the Warrior Ethos, the strength comes from saying, I will never quit.<br/><br/>Today we have talked about the history of African Americans in the Army and of the great feats accomplished when people work together. It's a chance for us to celebrate and acknowledge how far we've come.<br/><br/>But there is more to be done. Throughout the world and even here in the United States, there are still people who suffer under injustice, poverty, discrimination and oppression. There are still changes to be made and battles to be fought. Only when each individual person makes a commitment to stand for what's right can people work together to bring positive change.<br/><br/>Making that commitment is a choice. It can be a choice to hide in the shadows and let someone else speak or it can be to step forward and make your voice heard.<br/><br/>I encourage you today, while honoring the legacy of all those individuals who have fought against injustice, to look deeply into yourself and to make the choice that you will always stand up for what's right. Only through the actions of brave people can we continue to make changes for a positive future.<br/><br/>For anyone who has heard their personal call to duty, they will relate to what Ralph Abernathy said about his own call to duty in the civil rights movement. "I don't know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future."<br/><br/>Thank you.<br/>Phone: 703-693-7641 Email: tributetofreedom@hqda.army.mil

Page last updated Mon September 18th, 2006 at 12:08