From the beginning


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Death of Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770.



Crispus Attucks

On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks and several other patriots from Boston protested the British curbing of civil liberties in their Massachusetts colony.

During a scuffle with British soldiers, Attucks and several others were shot and killed. Although independence had not yet been officially declared, many consider Attucks the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War.

The Boston Massacre greatly helped to foster colonists’ spirit of independence from Great Britain. More than 5,000 Black Americans — both slaves and freemen — would later take up the cause and fight for America’s independence. Unfortunately, freedom for most of them would have to wait.

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Peter Salem by Walter J. Williams, Jr. — Peter Salem (1750-1816) grew up enslaved in Framingham, Massachusetts as did his mother. In early 1775, he was emancipated from his role as a farm worker for a short interim so that he could enlist in his former enslaver’s Framingham Minute Men company. His role in the Battle of Bunker Hill became a legend, with colonial witnesses attributing the shot that killed British Major John Pitcairn to Salem.



American Revolution

Thousands of Black Soldiers, both slaves as well as freemen, from all 13 colonies fought in the Continental Army during America’s war for independence from Great Britain. Many also served in state militias.

Black Soldiers served in every major battle of the war, mostly in integrated units. A notable exception was America’s first all-Black unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The regiment defeated three assaults by the British during the battle for Rhode Island in 1778 and later participated in the victory at Yorktown in 1781.

About 20 percent of the tens of thousands of Black Americans who served were manumitted — freed from slavery — as a result of their service.

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James Armistead Lafayette, was an enslaved Black American who served as a spy during the Revolutionary War. His efforts helped assure victory against the British.



Massachusetts Black Minutemen

Black Minutemen fought at Lexington and Concord as early as April 1775, but in May of that same year, the Committee for Safety of the Massachusetts Legislature presented a resolution. It read - “Resolved that it is the opinion of this Committee, as the contest now between Great Britain and the Colonies respects the liberties and privileges of the latter, which the Colonies are determined to maintain, that the admission of any persons, as soldiers, into the army, now raising, but only such as are freemen, will be inconsistent with the principles that are to be supported, and reflect dishonor on the colony, and that no slaves be admitted into this army, upon any consideration whatever.”

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American Soldiers at the Siege of Yorktown by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, 1781.



1st Rhode Island Regiment

In July 1778, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the first all-Black military unit in America, was assembled into service under the command of white officers.

On Aug. 29, 1778, they fought in the battle of Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island. They successfully held their line for four hours against British-Hessian assaults, enabling the entire American Army to escape a trap. At Yorktown, on the night of Oct. 14, 1781, they took part in the assault and capture of Redoubt 10.

Unlike their white counterparts, these Black Soldiers did not receive any compensation for their service after the war. Some Americans realized the irony of enslaved Black people fighting under the banner of the Declaration of Independence. As Henry Laurens of South Carolina stated, “[I am not] one of those who dare trust in Providence for defense and security of their own liberty while they enslave and wish to continue in slavery thousands who are as well entitled to freedom as themselves.” A monument to the regiment’s courage was erected in Portsmouth, R.I.

Historical Highlights

  • FROM SLAVE TO DOUBLE AGENT - James Armistead Lafayette

    Photo of FROM SLAVE TO DOUBLE AGENT - James Armistead Lafayette James Armistead was an enslaved Black American who served the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War under a French nobleman — Marquis de Lafayette — who had aligned himself with General George Washington. Armistead was assigned to be a spy, infiltrating the British under the guise of a runaway slave. Armistead's intelligence reports proved to be valuble and helped ensure the effectiveness of a Franco-American blockade that led to the British Surrender on October 19, 1781. Marquis de Lafayette would later write a testimony to Armistead's actions which led to his emancipation. Honored by his actions, James Armistead would add Lafayette to his name after being freed.


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Frederick Hall was a runaway enslaved Black American who enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 under the name William Williams. He fought as part of the 38th U.S. Infantry during the Battle of Baltimore, later dying at Fort McHenry in 1814. Illustration by Keith Rocco.



War of 1812

During the War of 1812, Black Soldiers served in both integrated regiments as well as in all-Black regiments. Many Black Soldiers served with courage and distinction, both on land and at sea. Many others worked as laborers, constructing fortifications and supplying the Army with food, materials and munitions.

Several northern states, including New York and Pennsylvania, recruited entire regiments of Black Soldiers, and even some southern states, like Louisiana and North Carolina, enlisted Black Soldiers. Two battalions of “Free Men of Color” and several other units participated in the great American victory over the British during the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the war.

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The painting shows the Choctaws and a mixed group of Major Daquin's Battalion of Free Men of Color. The latter were mostly attired in civilian clothes because they had been organized only for a few weeks. They are led by an officer distinguishable by his sword and red sash. Facing them are members of the British 85th Regiment in red coats with yellow facings and white lace, and members of the British 95th Regiment in green uniforms with black facings and white lace. Free Men of Colour and Choctaw Indian Volunteers at New Orleans, Louisiana by H. Charles McBarron Jr.



Free Men of Color

Many Black Soldiers fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Slaves, as well as free Black Soldiers, constructed forts around the city in preparation for the impending British invasion. Black Soldiers also comprised the majority of two battalions and three companies, collectively referred to as Free Men of Color, and served in integrated Louisiana militia units.

When Gen. Andrew Jackson, a future U.S. president, declared martial law in New Orleans in late 1814, he requested “volunteer” slaves from Louisiana and surrounding states to erect defenses for the city. Approximately 900 people dug a massive trench and earthen barricades at Rodriguez Canal that proved vital in the outcome of the ensuing battle.

Most of the Soldiers in the Free Men of Color units were refugees from Haiti and Santo Domingo, and 28 of them were Choctaw Indians. On Dec. 23, 1814, the British attacked. Approximately 50 Black Soldiers were killed during the battle, but the Free Men of Color repulsed the elite British 85th and 95th Regiments, helping to secure victory for the Americans.

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District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln. Photograph taken by William Morris Smith and provided by Library of Congress. Photo Colorized by Julius Jääskeläinen.



Civil War

When Union troops invaded Confederate states, thousands of Black slaves flocked to Union camps for a chance to fight — and a chance for freedom. Many of these men were unofficially allowed to enlist in the Union Army. After President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Jan. 1, 1863, Black Soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war.

Black Soldiers distinguished themselves in battle on numerous occasions. On Feb. 1, 1863, Col. T. W. Higginson, commander of the 1st Regiment South Carolina Volunteers (Union), gave this report after the St. Mary’s River expedition in Georgia and Florida — “No officer in this regiment now doubts that the key to the successful prosecution of this war lies in the unlimited employment of Black troops… It would have been madness to attempt [the battle], with the bravest white troops, what I have successfully accomplished with the Black ones.”

Approximately 186,000 Black Soldiers — including 94,000 former slaves from Southern states — ultimately served in the Union Army and 38,000 were killed in action.

The Confederate Army recruited a handful of Black Soldiers in March 1865, but they were still being organized when the war ended, and they never saw action.

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Storming Fort Wagner, Kurz & Allison, c1890. Print depicts the 54th Massachusetts Infantry storming the walls of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina, and engaging Confederate soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.



54th Massachusetts Infantry

In early 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, an all-Black regiment of the Union Army, was activated. More than 1,000 — about 25 percent of whom were former slaves — from 24 states and several countries enlisted in the regiment.

Frederick Douglass, best known as a Black orator and abolitionist, was also instrumental in the Union victory of the Civil War. He urged Lincoln to free slaves and to arm all Black people willing to fight. Douglass, a former slave, recruited his own two sons to serve in the Union Army.

Douglass also helped to establish the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army. On Aug. 13, 1863, Douglass was directed by the secretary of war to travel from his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., to Vicksburg, Miss., “to assist in recruiting colored troops.”

The 54th proved their bravery during the storming of Fort Wagner on James Island, S.C., July 18, 1863. The 54th led several white regiments in the assault, through darkness, and across a marsh with water 4-feet deep.

During the battle, Sgt. William H. Carney, a former slave, became the first of many Black Soldiers who later earned the Medal of Honor. After the regimental commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, Carney climbed the fort’s parapet and retrieved the Union flag from the slain color bearer. Despite being wounded in the chest, arm, and legs, he planted the flag atop the fort, which greatly inspired his fellow Soldiers.

More than a third of the regiment were killed or wounded during the fighting. The battle was immortalized in the 1989 film, “Glory”.

Historical Highlights

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Powhatan Beaty

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Powhatan Beaty Beaty was a first sergeant with Company G, 5th U.S. Colored Troops. Beaty was cited for the Medal of Honor for taking command of his company after all the officers were killed or wounded. He gallantly led the company at Capins Farm, Virginia, Sept. 29, 1864.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Alexander Kelly

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Alexander Kelly Kelly was a first sergeant with Company F, 6th U.S. Colored Troops. Kelly was cited for the Medal of Honor after he gallantly seized the colors at Chapins Farm, Virginia, which had fallen near the enemy's lines of abatis, raised them, and rallied the men at a time of confusion and in a place of the greatest danger Sept. 29, 1864.


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Troop A, Ninth U.S. Cavalry. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.



Indian Campaigns

After the Civil War, settlers moved westward in increasing numbers. When fighting broke out with Indians, the Army was often called in to quell the uprisings.

In 1866, Congress authorized the formation of regiments of Black Soldiers: the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th, 25th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments to deploy in the west to fight the Indians. The infantry regiments were later consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments.

Many of these Black Soldiers were veterans of the Civil War. Altogether, some 5,000 Black Soldiers — 10 percent of the total force — guarded the western frontier from 1866 to 1891. The infantry regiments also subdued cattle rustlers, outlaws and Mexican bandits and revolutionaries.

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The photograph shows a group portrait of African American soldiers in Colorado. I, 9th United States Volunteer Infantry who fought in the Spanish-American War and were known as "Buffalo Soldiers."



Buffalo Soldiers

Black Soldiers fought so bravely and ferociously during a battle with Cheyenne warriors in 1867 that the Cheyenne nicknamed them “Wild Buffalo.”

Over time, the term “Buffalo Soldiers” was used for all Black Soldiers who served during the Indian Wars. Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate in the Army, despite their poor living conditions on the frontier.

In 1868, Cathay Williams became the first Black female Buffalo Soldier — disguising herself as a man.

Henry O. Flipper, a Buffalo Soldier, became the first Black Soldier to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

When the Buffalo Soldiers weren’t fighting Indians, they built roads and telegraph lines, guarded stagecoach and mail routes, escorted supply trains, and survey parties and went on scouting patrols.

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Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1898.



10th Cavalry Regiment

The 10th Cavalry Regiment — veterans of the Indian campaigns — proved themselves in battle against the Spanish in Cuba, and later came to the rescue of a unit commanded by a future U.S. president.

The 10th Cavalry accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” over rugged terrain and successfully engaged a Spanish force at Las Guasimas, June 24, 1898. A week later, while advancing up San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders found themselves surrounded on all sides by Spanish soldiers in great peril. The 10th Cavalry came to the rescue, advancing under heavy enemy fire, “firing as they marched,” according to a reporter who witnessed the battle. “Their aim was splendid,” he continued, “their coolness was superb, and their courage aroused the admiration of their comrades.”

After the battle, a Rough Rider Soldier said, “If it hadn’t been for the Black cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.”

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Buffalo Soldier troopers in formation, ready for inspection in Cuba. Photo by U.S. Army.



Spanish-American War

Black Soldiers, of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, fought in the Spanish-American War. The four regiments comprised 12 percent of the total force during the invasion of Cuba.

Many of these Soldiers were veterans of the Indian Wars and some were Civil War veterans. Another 2,000 served in the Navy — they comprised 7.6 percent of all sailors.

Historical Highlights

  • First Black female to enlist in the Army - Cathay Williams

    Photo of First Black female to enlist in the Army - Cathay Williams Williams enlisted in the Army using the name William Cathay, Nov. 15, 1866. She informed her recruiting officer that she was a 22-year-old cook. He described her as 5' 9", with black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion. An Army surgeon examined Cathay and determined the recruit was fit for duty, thus sealing her fate in history as the first documented black woman to enlist in the Army even though U.S. Army regulations forbade the enlistment of women. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry and traveled throughout the West with her unit.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - John Denny

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - John Denny Denny was a sergeant with Company C, 9th U.S. Cavalry. Denny received the Medal of Honor for his actions when he removed a wounded comrade, under heavy fire, to a place of safety at Las Animas Canyon, N.M., Sept. 18, 1879, during the Indian Campaigns.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Edward L. Baker Jr.

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Edward L. Baker Jr. Edward L. Baker Jr. was a sergeant major with the 10th U.S. Cavalry. He was cited for the Medal of Honor after his actions at Santiago, Cuba on July 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Baker left cover, under fire, and rescued a wounded comrade from drowning.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - William H. Thompkins

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - William H. Thompkins William H. Thompkins was a private with Troop G, 10th U.S. Cavalry. Thompkins was cited for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Tayabacoa, Cuba on June 30, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. He voluntarily went ashore in the face of the enemy and aided in the rescue of his wounded comrades, after several previous attempts at rescue had been frustrated.


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Soldiers from the 370th Infantry Regiment. Photo by U.S. Army.



World War I

In 1917, the United States entered World War I. Despite knowing that freedom to serve their country did not in itself guarantee full participation in American society, thousands of Black Americans answered the call to duty through service in the Army.

Among them was Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright, the son of a man born into slavery, who graduated from Harvard University School of Medicine in 1915 with high honors. In 1917, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the medical section of the U.S. Army Officers Reserve Corps. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during World War I.

Among his many pioneering efforts was the introduction of the injection method of the smallpox vaccine. This method was eventually adopted by the Army as a medical standard for Soldiers. In 1919, he became the first black physician appointed to the staff of a white hospital in New York.

The Army operated under a policy of racial segregation and Black Americans were commonly relegated to supply and labor jobs. There were, however, active Black combat units that made notable contributions.

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Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment "Harlem Hellfighters" posing with their French-awarded Croix de Guerre decorations for gallantry in combat. Photo by U.S. Army.



Harlem Hellfighters

On Dec. 27, 1917, the 369th Infantry Regiment became the first all-Black U.S. combat unit to be shipped overseas during World War I. The War Department initially sent the unit to Europe after a violent racial incident in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the unit was planning to avenge the physical attack of their drum major, Noble Sissle.

Because there was no official combat role at this time for America’s Black Soldiers, Gen. John J. Pershing responded to France’s request for troops by assigning the 369th — and the 93rd Division’s other regiments — to the French army.

The Germans dubbed the unit the “Hellfighters” because during 191 days of duty at the front, no men were captured nor ground taken. But almost one-third of the unit died in combat.

The French government awarded the entire regiment the Croix de Guerre. Sgt. Henry Johnson was the first Black Soldier to win this prestigious award when he single-handedly saved Pvt. Needham Roberts, and fought off a German raiding party.

Historical Highlights

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Freddie Stowers

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Freddie Stowers Freddie Stowers was cited for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Hill 188 Champagne Marne Sector, France, Sept. 28, 1918. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease-fire and to come out into the open. When the company was within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire, causing well over 50 percent casualties. Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died.


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Black women in the United States Army Nurse Corps were assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field Hospital (Circa 1943) to assist pilots and cadets with physical and psychological problems. Part of their training included ground school instruction, but they never flew during World War II. Major Della H. Raney is seated in the cockpit in this photo.



World War II

In World War II, the U.S. war effort was determined to defeat fascism and defend freedom. For Black Americans, freedom in its fullest form was an ideal that was desired, not only abroad, but on the homefront as well. Even though in the U.S., many Black Americans were treated as second-class citizens, Black Soldiers still served unyieldingly for their country.

Della H. Raney was not an exception. A graduate of the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in Durham, North Carolina, Raney was the first Black nurse commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War II.

Then-Lt. Raney was selected as the first Black Chief Nurse in the ANC while serving at Tuskegee Airfield, Alabama. She later served as Chief Nurse at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. After the war, she was assigned to head the nursing staff at the station hospital at Camp Beale, California. Maj. Raney retired in 1978.

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Crews of U.S. light tanks stand by awaiting call to clean out scattered Nazi machine gun nests in Coburg, Germany, 1945. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.



78th Tank Battalion

On Jan. 13, 1941, the U.S. Army established the 78th Tank Battalion, the first Black armor unit. The tankers reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to begin armored warfare training in March 1941. The 78th was redesignated on May 8, 1941, as the 758th Tank Battalion (Light).

It was the first of three tank battalions comprising the 5th Tank Group, which was made up of Black enlisted men and white officers. The other two tank battalions were the 761st and 784th. Initially inactivated at Viareggio, Italy, Sept. 22, 1945, the 758th was reactivated in 1946 and later fought in the Korean War as the 64th Tank Battalion.

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The photograph shows several Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing at Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945. U.S. Army photo by Toni Frissell.



Tuskegee Airmen

On July 19, 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps began training Black pilots. The 926 members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — composed initially of the 99th Pursuit Squadron and later the 332nd Fighter Group — were trained for combat in World War II at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Known for their red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighters, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost an escorted plane to the enemy during the World War II, during which they carried out hundreds of escort missions.

Read more from This Week in Army History - Tuskegee Airmen Soared to New Heights.

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The 761st Tank Battalion prepares for combat. Photo by U.S. Army.



761st Tank Battalion

The 761st arrived in Normandy, France in October 1944 and entered combat shortly after their landing. They would endure a record 183 straight days in combat and would liberate 30 towns on their crusade into Germany. As a result of their great fighting abilities they spearheaded several of Patton’s moves into enemy territory

They fought in France, Belgium and Germany. By the end of April 1945, the 761st would be one of the first U.S. battalions to meet up with Soviet forces. 1945 officially ended hostilities in Europe. The 761st would remain in Germany for another year before being deactivated on June 1st, 1946. The Soldiers of the 761st Tank Battalion earned the nation’s respect and cemented their honored legacy in the military and American history.

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Members of the 6888th participate in a victory parade on May 27, 1945 in Rouen, France, passing through the marketplace where Joan of Arc was executed. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.



6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was the only all-Black Women’s Army Corps unit to serve overseas in World War II. The unit kept mail flowing to the nearly seven million Soldiers in the European Theater of Operations.

The women of the 6888th survived two brushes with the German military. First, German U-boats forced the unit’s convoy to reroute during its voyage across the Atlantic. Then, after arriving in England, a V1 rocket — or Buzz Bomb — came roaring into the area. No one was hurt during the attacks.

When the women arrived in Birmingham, England, they found warehouses crammed from floor to ceiling with mail that hadn’t moved in about a year or two. To deal with the volume of the mail, they worked seven days a week in eight-hour rotating shifts.

They were given six months to break the logjam; the 6888th did it in three.

Historical Highlights

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Vernon Baker

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Vernon Baker 1st Lt. Vernon Baker was cited for the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in action from April 5 - 6, 1945, near Viareggio, Italy.Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel, and equipment during his company's attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans.Continuing forward, he attacked an enemy observation post and killed two occupants. With the aid of one of his men, Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy's fire.On the following night, Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy minefields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Baker's fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - John Fox

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - John Fox 1st Lt. John Fox was cited for the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy, Dec. 26, 1944.During the preceding few weeks, Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Being greatly outnumbered, most of the U.S. Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire.At 8 a.m., Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy's advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position.Finally, he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. After acknowledging the danger, Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Fox's body was later found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Edward A. Carter Jr.

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Edward A. Carter Jr. Sgt. 1st Class Edward Allen Carter Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in action on March 23, 1945, near Speyer, Germany. When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sgt. Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sgt. Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using his two prisoners to shield himself and obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops. Sgt. Carter's extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Charles L. Thomas

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Charles L. Thomas Maj. Charles L. Thomas was cited for the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in action on December 14, 1944, near Climbach, France. While riding in the lead vehicle of a task force organized to storm and capture the village of Climbach, France, then 1st Lt. Thomas's armored scout car was subjected to intense enemy artillery, self-propelled gun and small arms fire. Although wounded by the initial burst of hostile fire, Lt. Thomas signalled the remainder of the column to halt and even with the severity of his wounds, assisted the crew of the wrecked car in dismounting. Upon leaving the scant protection which the vehicle afforded, Thomas was again subjected to a hail of enemy fire which inflicted multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, legs, and left arm. Despite the intense pain caused by these wounds, Thomas ordered and directed the dispersion and emplacement of two antitank guns which in a few moments were promptly and effectively returning the enemy fire. Realizing that he could no longer remain in command of the platoon, he signalled to the platoon commander to join him. Thomas then thoroughly oriented him on enemy gun dispositions and the general situation. Only after he was certain that his junior officer was in full control of the situation did he permit himself to be evacuated. Thomas's outstanding heroism were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.


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Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out the North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20, 1950. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. James Cox.



Korean War

New opportunities began to emerge for Black Soldiers while serving in the Korean War. In October 1951, the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment, which had served during the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the beginning of the Korean War, was disbanded. This eliminated the last lingering formal practice of segregation in the Army.

Black Soldiers now served in all combat service elements and were involved in all major combat operations, including the advance of United Nations Forces to the Chinese border.

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Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris (left) received the Medal of Honor at the White House on March 18, 2014, for his actions in Vietnam. Then-Staff Sgt. engaged in a day-long battle to recover a fallen comrade, directly putting himself in the path of enemy fire.



Vietnam War

From a legal standpoint, the 1960s marked a transformation of the realities of discrimination and political equality for Black Americans with the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act — 1964 and 1965 respectively. The 1960s also marked the full engagement of the United States in the war in Vietnam. In support of this campaign to uphold democracy, Black Soldiers continued the tradition of serving the Army with distinction.

Historical Highlights

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Cornelius H. Charlton

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Cornelius H. Charlton Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton's platoon I was attacking heavily-defended hostile positions on commanding ground when the leader was wounded and evacuated on June 2, 1951, during the Korean War. Charlton assumed command, rallied the men and spearheaded the assault against the hill.Personally eliminating two hostile positions and killing six of the enemy with his rifle fire and grenades, Charlton continued up the slope until the unit suffered heavy casualties and became pinned down. He regrouped the men and led them forward only to be hurled back by a shower of grenades.Despite a severe chest wound, Charlton refused medical attention and led a third daring charge that carried to the crest of the ridge. The remaining emplacement, which had slowed the advance, was situated on the reverse slope, but Charlton charged his slope.The wounds received during his daring exploits resulted in his death but his indomitable courage, superb leadership and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself the infantry, and the military service. Charlton was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - William Thompson

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - William Thompson While Pfc. William Thompson's platoon was reorganizing under cover of darkness Aug. 6, 1950, during the Korean War, enemy forces in overwhelming strength launched a surprise attack on the unit. Thompson set up his machine gun in the path of the onslaught and swept the enemy with withering fire, pinning them down momentarily thus permitting the remainder of his platoon to withdraw to a more tenable position.Although hit repeatedly by grenade fragments and small-arms fire, he steadfastly remained at his machine gun and continued to deliver deadly, accurate fire until mortally wounded by an enemy grenade. Thompson's dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit on himself and uphold the esteemed traditions of military service. Thompson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Clarence Eugene Sasser

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Clarence Eugene Sasser Spc. Clarence Eugene Sasser distinguished himself while assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion. He was serving as a medical aidman with Company A, 3rd Battalion, on a reconnaissance in force operation. His company was making an air assault when suddenly it was taken under heavy small arms, recoilless rifle, machine gun and rocket fire from well-fortified enemy positions on three sides of the landing zone Jan. 10, 1968, during the Vietnam War.During the first few minutes, more than 30 casualties were sustained. Without hesitation, Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded. After helping one man to safety, he was painfully wounded in the shoulder by fragments of an exploding rocket. Refusing medical attention, he ran through a barrage of fire to aid casualties of the initial attack and, after giving them urgently needed treatment, continued to search for other wounded.Despite two additional wounds immobilizing his legs, he dragged himself through the mud toward another Soldier 100 meters away. Although in agonizing pain and faint from loss of blood, Sasser reached the man, treated him, and proceeded on to encourage another group of Soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There he attended their wounds for five hours until they were evacuated.Sasser's extraordinary heroism is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army. Sasser was awarded the Medal of Honor.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Clifford Chester Sims

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Clifford Chester Sims Staff Sgt. Clifford Chester Sims distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader with Company D. After encountering strong enemy defensive fire on Feb. 21, 1968, during the Vietnam War, Sims led his squad in a furious attack. His skillful leadership provided the platoon with freedom of movement and enabled it to regain the initiative.Sims was then ordered to move his squad to a position where he could provide covering fire for the company command group and to link up with the 3rd Platoon, which was under heavy enemy pressure. After moving no more than 30 meters, Sims noticed that the ammunition stock was on fire. He took immediate action to move his squad from this position. In the process of moving, two members of his squad were injured, but Sims' prompt actions undoubtedly prevented more serious casualties from occurring.While continuing through the woods amidst heavy enemy fire, Sims and his squad heard the unmistakable noise of a concealed booby trap being triggered immediately to their front. Sims warned his comrades of the danger and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the device as it exploded, taking the full impact of the blast. In so protecting his fellow Soldiers, he willingly sacrificed his life.Sims was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. His extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.


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Gen. Colin Powell poses for a group photograph with members of a medical unit while visiting military facilities during Operation Desert Shield. DOD photo by Senior Airman Rodney Kerns.



Persian Gulf War

The Persian Gulf War developed out of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The international armed intervention followed in January 1991. Black Soldiers - making up about 22 percent of the total Army - followed a rich tradition of honorably serving in the U.S. forces.

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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, 2019 in Southeastern Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Alejandro Licea.



Global War on Terror

Since the Armed Forces were integrated in 1948, the Army has been committed to racial diversity and equal opportunity for all Soldiers. In the past several years, the Army has become even more proactive to recruit and train a diverse force since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Senior leadership established the Diversity Task Force in 2007 to review diversity programs. The equal opportunity program, under the deputy chief of staff, G-1, human resources, creates opportunities and programs to ensure fair treatment for all.

In 2003, approximately 254,000 Black Americans served the Army as active-duty, Reserve or National Guard Soldiers, or as Army civilians, according to the U.S. Office of Army Demographics. This was 20.3 percent of the total Army. In the general U.S. population, 12.7 percent of 18 to 55-year-olds are Black. This continued the trend of the late 20th century, when the percentage of Black Americans serving the Army was higher than the percentage of Black Americans in the general U.S. population. This demographic trend continues today.

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Sgt. Koku Adzoble, an automated logistical specialist with Task Force Wolfpack, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, is deployed to Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. Adzoble emigrated to the United States in 2007 from the west-African country of Togo under the Diversity Visa program, run by the U.S. Department of State. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon.



Present Day

Black Americans have played a major role in shaping the U.S. Army, whose foundation is built upon accepting people from diverse backgrounds and drawing upon their unique experiences, skills, talents and abilities. Today, there are more than 90,000 African American Soldiers serving in the Army’s Active Component; more than 39,000 in the Army Reserve and more than 52,000 in the Army National Guard.

Historical Highlights

  • Medal of Honor Recipient - Alwyn C. Cashe

    Photo of Medal of Honor Recipient - Alwyn C. Cashe Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe distinguished himself by acts of gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Platoon Sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq, on October 17th, 2005.

    While on a nighttime mounted patrol near an enemy-laden village, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle which Sergeant First Class Cashe was commanding was attacked by enemy small-arms fire and an improvised explosive device, which disabled the vehicle and engulfed it in flames. After extracting himself from the vehicle, Sergeant First Class Cashe set about extracting the driver, who was trapped in the vehicle. After opening the driver's hatch, Sergeant First Class Cashe and a fellow soldier extracted the driver, who was engulfed in the flames. During the course of extinguishing the flames on the driver and extracting him from the vehicle, Sergeant First Class Cashe's fuel soaked uniform, ignited and caused severe burns to his body. Ignoring his painful wounds, Sergeant First Class Cashe then moved to the rear of the vehicle to continue in aiding his fellow soldiers who were trapped in the troop compartment.

    At this time, the enemy noted his movements and began to direct their fire on his position. When another element of the company engaged the enemy, Sergeant First Class Cashe seized the opportunity and moved into the open troop door and aided four of his soldiers in escaping the burning vehicle. Having extracted the four soldiers, Sergeant First Class Cashe noticed two other soldiers had not been accounted for and again he entered the building to retrieve them. At this time, reinforcements arrived to further suppress the enemy and establish a Casualty Collection Point.

    Despite the severe second-and third-degree burns covering the majority of his body, Sergeant First Class Cashe persevered through the pain to encourage his fellow soldiers and ensure they received needed medical care. When medical evacuation helicopters began to arrive, Sergeant First Class Cashe selflessly refused evacuation until all of the other wounded soldiers were evacuated first. Sergeant First Class Cashe's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

This website was made possible through a collaboration between the U.S. Army Center for Military History and theOffice of the Chief of Public Affairs

This video provided by the National Park Service describes how two African American cavalry regiments, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were placed in the tense and tenuous position between Native Americans and European settlers. They also worked on infrastructure, like the railroads and telegraph lines that made westward expansion possible. For Buffalo Soldiers, military service offered the opportunity for a better life, and a greater level of independence and respect for their rights not yet widely found in American society.

Learn the history and heroism of the Harlem Hellfighters during World War I and the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Visit Sgt. Henry Johnson official Medal of Honor website

World War II veteran Col. Charles E. McGee recounts his training, missions and historical significance that he experienced as an African-American aviator and member of the Tuskegee Airmen