There is no part of America that Black citizens haven't touched. Ranging from music to business and back, Black communities have had an impact on every aspect of American society. Military service is not excluded from that statement either. From the Revolutionary War to the present day, Black soldiers have laid their lives on the line in battle. Along the way, American society has come to know the names of legendary troops like the "Red Tails" and the "Harlem Hellfighters." The sacrifices that these soldiers made have paved the way for the likes of Colin Powell, Lloyd J. Austin and several others. As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, it's important to look back and learn more about how Black soldiers have shaped this country.
Yes, Black Soldiers Did Fight In The Revolutionary War
A number of Black men fought in the Revolutionary War that triggered the creation of the United States of America. However, it's unclear just how many Black soldiers did take the field of battle during that particular war. As reported by the U.S. Army, former President George Washington and several southerners did not want Black soldiers involved in the field of battle. Despite their wishes, the advancement of British troops made it impossible for Washington and others not to enlist every able-bodied man in the armed forces. The U.S. Army reports that hundreds of Black men fought at Lexington and Concord. Another Black soldier by the name of Salem Poor fought so heroically that several officers referred to him as a "brave and gallant soldier" deserving of an award.
However, things took another turn when Washington was appointed Commander-In-Chief and he reversed the decision to allow Black men to participate in battle. The U.S. Army claims that the British used this as an opportunity to recruit Black soldiers under the false promise that they could "earn their freedom." Thousands of Black soldiers took them up on this offer, which hurt Washington's effort. As a result, he reversed his latest decision and allowed Black soldiers to re-join the military. In fact, the famous picture of him crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Day features Black soldiers.
Washington and his fellow soldiers would go on to the win war in part because of Black soldiers. However, no Black soldiers were rewarded for their
Sixteen? Yes, Sixteen Black Soldiers Won The Congressional Medal Of Honor In The Civil War
Much like the Revolutionary War, a former President was worried about having Black soldiers fight in the war. In the end, the President would reconsider their position, enlist Black soldiers and the war would be won.
According to History, former President Abraham Lincoln felt that the enlistment of Black soldiers would "would push the loyal border states to secede." Meanwhile, Frederick Douglass argued that the inclusion of Black soldiers would help advance racial equality within the Union.
“Once let the Black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket,” Douglass said, according to History.
“And there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."
Eventually, Lincoln would reconsider his decision as the number of white military volunteers dwindled. He then signed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act in July of 1862. It didn't explicity allow Black soldiers to enlist, but it did allow the President “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion…in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.”
You Read That Correctly. Harriet Tubman Was A Spy.
Black woman may not have been able to enlist in the army in the same way that Black men did, but that doesn't mean they were sitting on the sidelines. As reported by Ms. Magazine, dozens of Black women were tasked with being spies during the Civil War. They would sport disguises and hide behind enemy lines while gathering key points of information. The Union's Black spies were actually so good that Confederate General Robert E. Lee admitted that Black women in the south were “the chief source of information to the enemy.”
One of the many Black women working as a spy for the Union was Harriet Tubman. Not only did she gather key information, she used her position to travel into enemy territory and liberate enslaved Black people. As reported by Ms. Magazine, Tubman took part in some f “the most productive espionage operations” during the Civil War.
Did They Teach You About The Harlem Hell Fighters In History Class?
During the first World War, a record number of Black men were added to the U.S. military. Among those who were added to the military was the 369th United States Infantry, an all-Black group of combat soldiers. Not only were they an all-Black group of soldiers, but they were also sent to France to train alongside French soldiers and fight on the front lines. The 369th U.S. Infantry was reportedly the first group to reach the Rhine River in battle and held the distinction of providing the longest service of any regiment in a foreign army. Over time, the group earned the nickname, Harlem Hellfighters, as they also held the distinction of never losing a man through capture.
If You Have Seen Red Tails, You Should Know Who The Tuskegee Airmen Are.
In the early portion of the 20th century, American society became captivated by flight. Pilots like Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh would soon become household names, but marginalized groups were often barred from the world of aviation. However, these barriers were not enough to bar a group of Black pilots with the capability of changing the nation.
In the late 1930s, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt foresaw the nation entering the second World War and needed a way to expand the military. Among other things, he made the decision to expand the civilian pilot training program in the United States. While Roosevelt moved to expand the training program, the military remain segregated. The NAACP, Chicago Defender and several entities began to put pressure on the military to allow for Black servicemen to become combat pilots. By 1940, Roosevelt moved to allow Black pilots to join the military. This decision opened the door for 14,000 navigators, bombardiers, instructors, aircraft and engine mechanics and control tower operators to train at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. Of the group, a group of pilots known as the 99th Squadron emerged. They not only served their country in battle, but they also became the first all-Black pilot squadron in U.S. history.