Black Military Veterans Have Stood The Test Of Time Despite Racial Challenges
29.2% of Black men and 16.9% of Black women are currently enlisted in the service
African Americans have a storied past with the United States military dating back to the Revolutionary War. In 1861 when the Civil War started, enslaved men who were considered subhuman by the federal government were given the opportunity to defend “their” country against the Confederate Army. According to the National Archives, around 200,000 Black men served the Union Army and the U.S. Navy, 179,000 and 19,000, respectively. Roughly, 38,000 of those men “died, the majority of disease,” while Black survivors of the war returned to an oppressive, racist reality, albeit emancipated.
circa 1865: Journalist and African-American activist Martin Robison Delany (1812 – 1885), a Major in the Union Army. Born a freeman in West Virginia, he studied at Harvard and was a spokesman for African-American rights. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Some 80 years later, over one million Black women and men would go on to register to volunteer and serve the U.S. during World War II. Postwar, Black troops and battalions who risked their lives in combat would return to a nation that subjected its Black citizens to segregation and lynching.
First Sergeant Walter Morris of the United States Army 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (nicknamed the “Triple Nickles” because of its numerical designation) is presented with his paratrooper graduation certificate by Captain William Johnson on 18th February 1944 at Fort Benning, Georgia, United States. Sergeant Walter Morris was the first enlisted African American accepted for airborne paratrooper duty and part of the original 17 member selection that succeeded in becoming the first All African American parachute infantry battalion. In early 1945 the battalion were sent to Camp Pendleton in Oregon and assigned to the 9th Services Command, trained by the U.S. Forest Service, and became history’s first military airborne firefighting smokejumpers. (Photo by US Army Signal Corps/INP/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
During the Civil Rights movement, African American men were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War at a disproportionate rate: “64 percent of all eligible African-Americans were drafted, but only 31 percent of eligible whites,” Amistad Resource documented. In one year alone, 1965-66, Black service members were casualties of the war at twice the rate of whites. The National Archive lists the number of fallen Black veterans at 7,243. Many of those service men who made it home from the war were devalued and disenfranchised and faced financial and mental health challenges.
United States soldiers take a rest as his unit moves through the barren landscape of Hill 282, 12 miles south of Hue, during a patrol in search of a reported concentration of approximately 200 Viet Cong, around the rural district of Phu Loc, South Vietnam, 2nd November 1968. His helmet, rifle and ammunition belt rest on a rock before him. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
The impact of more contemporary wars is no better than the ones that precede them. However, 29.2% of Black men and 16.9% of Black women are currently enlisted in the service according to Statista.
Military service isn’t for the faint at heart. After all, it’s a huge responsibility that takes bravery and commitment. On this Veterans Day, BLACK ENTERPRISE recognizes the officers, soldiers, and sailors who serve our country and humankind in the face of white supremacy and racism. We salute you.
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