BLACK AMERICANS

IN THE U.S. ARMY


LOYALTY, HONOR, PATRIOTISM
Header Fading Slideshow Image - Tuskegee Airmen Header Fading Slideshow Image - Saluting the troops Header Fading Slideshow Image - Ben Davis Sr. WWII Header Fading Slideshow Image - Blank Panthers Tank Battalion Header Fading Slideshow Image - Six Triple Eight Postal Battalion Header Fading Slideshow Image - The Fighting 54th
Header Fading Slideshow Image - Tuskegee Airmen Briefing Header Fading Slideshow Image - Six Triple Eight Battalion Header Fading Slideshow Image - Ben Davis Sr. Header Fading Slideshow Image - Harlem Hellfighters Header Fading Slideshow Image - The Fighting 54th Header Fading Slideshow Image - Tuskegee Airmen McGee

BLACK AMERICANS IN THE U.S. ARMY

INTRODUCTION

Throughout America's history, from the Battle of Lexington to the Battle of Fallujah, Black Soldiers have honorably answered the call to duty, serving with great valor and distinction in America's armed forces.

The Army story cannot be told without reflecting on the historical achievements made by Black Americans and preserving those memories. Black Americans have served and sacrificed in every conflict in our nation's history, with more than 245 years of honorable service.

Black Americans, who have defended our nation since the Revolutionary War, have built a legacy of courage and professionalism by serving the U.S. Army with great honor and distinction, inspiring generations to come – we recognize and honor that legacy always.

 

“For more than 200 years, African Americans have participated in every conflict in United States history. They have not only bravely fought the common enemies of the United States, but have also had to confront the individual and institutional racism of their countrymen.”

— Retired Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning, author, "The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell"

Featured Historical Image - 54th MASSACHUSETTS

54th MASSACHUSETTS storm Ft. Wagner during the Civil War
Image above: "The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground." This painting depicts the 54th Massachusetts Regiment storming Fort Wagner during the Civil War. Click the image to learn more about the "Fighting 54th".

Black History is integral to Army History

Black Americans have left an indelible mark on history and on our society. America has never fought a war in which Black Americans did not serve proudly. But throughout most of American history, Black service members faced great adversity.

Contributions of Black Americans to the birth of our nation were largely unrecorded and soon forgotten. After the Revolutionary War, Black Americans were virtually excluded from the military forces until they volunteered to serve during the War of 1812. Despite their heroism, they were again barred from service until the Civil War, when the Emancipation Proclamation declared they could join the armed forces of the United States.

Although Black Americans fought with distinction in both World Wars, racism and segregation continued when they returned home. Accounts of this racism and physical violence against these veterans garnered national attention, and in 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which called for equality of treatment of the Armed Forces. Sanctioned segregation within the Army was no longer allowed.

The Army simply could not accomplish its missions without the skill and dedication of all of its members. We find our true strength in our ability to bring together people of different races, cultures and faiths who share common values like duty, honor, selfless service, loyalty and respect.

 

RELATED VIDEOS - HISTORY

 

Female Buffalo Soldier Served in Disguise

Cathay Williams, born a slave in 1844 and later freed during the Civil War, became the first documented black woman to enlist in the U.S. Army. Although the reasons surrounding her entry into the Army aren't well known, Williams was presumably looking to maintain her independence. By enlisting as William Cathay in the 38th U.S. Infantry, she did just that, and became part of history as the only female Buffalo Soldier.

Read the full story of Cathay Williams

America's First Black General

In 1940, Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. became the first Black American general officer in the U.S. Army. Davis entered military service in 1898 as a temporary 1st lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry during the War with Spain. He was later discharged and enlisted in the Regular Army as a private in 1899, was promoted to corporal and squadron sergeant major before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1901.

In 1942, Davis was assigned to the European theater as an advisor to the Secretary of War's Committee on Negro Troop Policies. During his time in Europe, Davis proposed policies that illustrated troops of different races could serve together, leading towards integration. He ended his career as Assistant to the Inspector General, then assistant to the Secretary of the Army, before retiring in 1948.

 

Over 89 Black Americans serving in the U.S. Army have been awarded the medal of honor

 

WWII's All-Black Tank Battalion

In 1944, the 761st Tank Battalion — nicknamed the "Black Panthers" — arrived in Europe. The all-Black battalion endured a record 183 consecutive days in combat and liberated 30 towns on their mission into Germany.

A testament to their great ability, the Black Panthers spearheaded several of Gen. Patton's moves into enemy territory. Patton himself cheered them on, saying "Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army."

Read the full story of the 761st Tank Battalion



The Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military aviators, serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Airmen's success in escorting bombers during World War II is unmatched by any other fighter group — having one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter groups and being in constant demand for their services by the allied bomber units.

One of the last remaining Tuskegee Airmen, Brig. Gen. Charles Edward McGee (1919-2022), was a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. McGee's extensive experience made him an accomplished public speaker, often taking time to talk to students. His formula for success, which he called the four P's — perception, preparation, performance and perseverance — is something every American could learn from.

Learn more about Brigadier General Charles Edward McGee

 

"I found my place. I found discipline, I found structure, I found people that were like me and I liked. I fell in love with the Army those first few months in ROTC, and it lasted for the next 40-odd years..."

- Colin Powell, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
and four-star general U.S. Army, 1937-2021

 

Colin Powell was a distinguished Army officer who served two tours in Vietnam, and at the end of his military career was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993. Powell's acumen led him to become the 65th Secretary of State in President George W. Bush's administration.

Powell was the first Black American appointed to these posts and continues to be an inspiration for following generations of leaders.

Read Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's reflections on the death of Colin Powell

PRESENT DAY

In 2020, Black Soldiers comprised approximately 21% of the active-duty Army, 15% of the Army National Guard and 21% of the Army Reserve. Black Americans serve in the Army at a rate that is higher than their representation in the U.S. population. The active-duty percentage of Black Soldiers has remained higher than the representation of Black Americans in the U.S. population since 2002, with peaks in 2002 and 2014. In 2020, the Black or African American population — 41.1 million — accounted for 12.4% of all people living in the United States, compared with 38.9 million and 12.6% in 2010.

Graph: Active-Duty by Race Ethnicity - 2020
Graph: Active-Duty Army Black Soldier Levels 2002 - 2020
Graph: Active-Duty Army Black Soldier Rank Breakdown 2020 - % of Category

Data Sources:
Official U.S. Army Demographics Reports
Blacks in the U.S. Army: Then and Now
2020 Census Illuminates Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Country
How the Military Supports Diversity and Inclusion

RELATED VIDEOS - PRESENT DAY

This selection of videos is representative of Black American soldiers in the U.S. Army today. Hear stories from Sgt. James Akinola, the 2020 Soldier of the Year, explaining what #ProjectInclusion means to him; Lt. Col. Ebony Calhoun who discusses the history of women's service in the Army and how it reflects the history of progress in the United States. Capt. Matthew Manning, an AH-64 Apache pilot at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, and his journey to becoming an Army aviator, the importance of mentorship and putting "Soldiers First." 1st Lt. J.R. Phelps and what Black history means to her, her family's deep military history, and her unique position in today's U.S. Army. And Spc. Christyana and Christon Hartfield, twin soldiers, who talk about their time as military children and following their mother’s example of service to the country.

Featured Image

82 Airborne, Afghanistan
Image above: Spc. Zachary Salmond, assigned to C Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides security during a fly-to-advise mission on Dec. 29 in Southeastern Afghanistan. 2019. Photo by Master Sgt. Alejandro Licea.

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