Hohenfels Community honors the past and secure the future during African American History Month

By Lt. Col. Johnny Evans, Joint Multinational Readiness CenterFebruary 26, 2020

Inspiring the future
U.S. Army photo (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

HOHENFELS, Germany- American History is an invaluable facet of American History. Neither this month nor observance can fully depict the contributions of African Americans to our nation or their triumphs in the face of adversity.

However, I will humbly attempt to bring credit and honor to this group of Americans, particularly those that joined the profession of arms, during my limited remarks.

First, honoring the past- Americans of African descent have participated in every war engaged by the United States. When the Revolutionary War began, African Americans were not at first welcomed into the Continental Army because of the influence of the slave states in the new national government.

As the War for Independence progressed, faced with increasing shortages of volunteers, General George Washington disagreed with the Continental Congress and declared that he would depart from the resolution that barred participation by Blacks.

Because Congress did not challenge Washington's action, more than 5,000 African Americans served in the integrated units in the Continental forces. These Black integrated units in the Continental forces. These Black Soldiers participated in many battles, including those of Bunker Hill, New York, Trenton, Princeton, Savannah, Monmouth and Yorktown.

Black Soldiers served in the War of 1812, but in 1820, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, responding to Southern slaveowners, banned any further enlistment by African Americans.

As African American Soldiers departed the military, the U.S. Army became exclusively White until the Civil War. Of, note these African American Veterans felt a sense of obligation to represent their people well, which they did. However, it was much deeper than that.

They embodied the value of selfless service in support of a nation that institutionalized the slavery of their people. Moreover, these veterans exemplified the values of loyalty and duty as they decided to protect and defend a Constitution that did not include their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As the contentious argument over states rights, in particular the harsh reality of slavery, erupted into the U.S. Civil War, the U.S. War Department in 1861 continued its policy of rejecting Black enlistment. However, in 1862, as slaves flocked to the Northern armies invading the South, some abolitionist Union generals began training them to fight.

Official policy did not change until after the emancipation proclamation took effect, 1 January 1863. The Northern states and the federal government began recruiting the eager freedom into Black regiments with Black noncommissioned officers under white commissioned officers.

Eventually, 186,000 African Americans fought under the Union Army, winning fourteen Congressional Medals of Honor in the process.

Units of the U.S. Colored Troops fought in several battles, including the 54th Massachusetts Regiments assault during the siege of Fort Wagner at Charleston and the attack of the Black Fourth Division of the Ninth Corps at the Battle of the Crater in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

Although the Black Soldiers were paid less than their White counterparts, their wartime service and heroism were cited as one reason for giving Black men the vote in Reconstruction.

After the Civil War, Congress added four Black regiments to the regular Army, The "Buffalo" Soldiers, as they were called by the American Indians, served mainly in the west, but they also saw combat in the Spanish-American War and Philippine insurrection, as well as in the Mexican Expedition of 1916.

With the increased segregation and disfranchisement propagated by Jim Crow laws and lynching of African Americans at the turn of the century, race became an issue in the U.S. mobilization for World War I.

President Wilson's administration supported the Army's insistence on continuation of racially segregated units. Conscription and voluntarism brought 380,000 Americans of African decent into the wartime Army.

Although the 93rd Division, which included Black National Guard units like the 369th New York( the "Harlem Hell Fighters"), distinguished itself fighting alongside French troops, after armistice, the War Department concluded that in future wars, Black Soldiers should mainly serve in support roles. By 1940, there were only 5,000 Black Soldiers and five black officers in the Army.

At the outbreak of World War II, African Americans again answered the call in support of our nation. Most of the 900,000 African Americans who served in the armed forces in World War II were in segregated units, chiefly in the Army.

However, beginning with the Battle of the Bulge, when the Army suffered shortages of White infantrymen, some 4,500 men from Black service units volunteered and formed Black platoons in formerly all-White combat companies.

Following World War II, the armed forces initially sought to avoid integration, delaying even in the face of President Truman's 1948 Executive Order 9981 that directed an end to segregation in the military- the armed forces were directed to provided equal treatment and opportunity regardless of race.

Beginning in 1951, the Korean War led to the end of the all-Black units in the Army and moved all the services toward racial integration in the enlisted ranks for greater efficiency. Black and White service members fought side by side, dined in the same mess halls, and slept in the same barracks.

Nevertheless, the officer's corps remained primarily White, with Black officers representing only 3 percent of the Army's commissioned officers.

The Vietnam War saw the highest portion of African Americans ever to serve in an American war. African Americans who formed 11 percent of the American population, made up 12.6 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam. The majority of these were in the infantry and the percentage of Black combat fatalities was estimated as 14.9 percent.

The Nixon administration ended the Vietnam War and the draft in 1973. The All-Volunteer Force soon included a disproportionate number of African Americans.

In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, 30 percent of the Soldiers deployed were African American. Significant percentages of African American troops also participated in peace keeping operation in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and ultimately in Afghanistan and Iraq after the new millennium.

Next, securing the future. Many strides for equality and representation have been made in our nation and in the military. However, additional work remains. In 2017, the organization Protect Our Defenders released a report to Congress detailing how African Americans service members are punished disproportionately in comparison to their White counterparts.

Black members of the Air Force were 71 percent more likely to face court martial or Nonjudicial Punishment, Black Marines were 32 percent more likely to receive a guilty finding at a court martial or Nonjudicial Punishment proceeding. Black Navy Sailors were 40 percent more likely than White Sailors to be referred to special or general court martial, and Black Soldiers in the Army were 61 percent more likely to face a special or general court martial.

These facts don't necessarily denote racism. However, the causes and circumstances associated with this disparity warrant further investigation.

Representation is also lacking. African Americans eligible for military service equates to 13 percent of the US population. Black Soldiers have been consistently represented in greater shares among the enlisted corps. Recently, 23 percent of the Army's enlisted corps was Black.

Conversely, 9 percent of the officer's corps consists of African Americans, Additionally, only 6 percent of African American officers were commissioned in combat arms branches.

Representation yields a powerful impact on subordinates as they look for leaders to learn from and aspire to be. In order to do this, someone does not have to be the same color. However, it can help. Being able to speak and interact with someone that you are comfortable with, can relate to, and identify with, is powerful and inspirational.

In closing, the service of African Americans in the U.S. military has a long and distinguished history. Although African Americans have participated int every American war, they have sometimes faced almost as bitter hostility from their fellows Americans as from the enemy.

However, they continue to emulate the Army and American values in the face of adversity. Moreover, African Americans have overcome much and continue to serve out nation with honor.