Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. -- The U.S. Army Sustainment Command Equal Opportunity Office hosted a potluck and historical lecture in honor of Black History Month in the Baylor Conference Room, here, Feb. 10.
George Eaton, ASC historian, was the keynote speaker. Eaton discussed an overview of black history in the U.S. Army from the Revolutionary War to the present. He focused on black history on Arsenal Island.
Eaton discussed the controversial Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which was an indirect catalyst for the Civil War by ruling the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.
Dred Scott, an enslaved African-American man, attempted to sue for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived in free states. The Court declared that Scott had no standing to sue because he was property and was not a citizen.
Scott's owner was a U.S. Army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, who worked at Fort Armstrong, which was on the island from 1816 to 1836. Scott had lived in what is now the Iowa Quad Cities, which was free territory under the Missouri Compromise.
Eaton also talked about the black Union Soldiers who were in charge of guarding white Confederate prisoners of war at RIA during the Civil War. He said black Soldiers were given guard duty because white Union officers were skeptical that blacks would fight in regular Army operations, and they also wanted to signify to the Confederate prisoners that times had changed.
Following the Civil War, Eaton said racism persisted locally and throughout the Army. At RIA, blacks were present in small numbers, but usually were only seen in menial jobs, if at all. It was not until during the Korean War that desegregation came to the Army and RIA.
Eaton talked about an overwhelming barrier of racism that held blacks back from slow integration into the military up until president Harry Truman's desegregation order in 1948. Eaton said black and white relations gradually improved following the order.
Sgt. 1st Class Marion Wilson, equal opportunity adviser, ASC, said he thought Eaton's lecture was informative.
"I think it really highlighted some of the challenges of being a black Soldier throughout history," he said. "I would like the workforce to understand that we are getting better, but we still have a long way to go."
More than 70 RIA personnel attended the event, including Col. Lance Koenig, chief of staff, ASC, and Col. Elmer Speights, garrison commander.