Air Force

February 15, 2013

African-Americans in the military: from the American Revolution to integration

Tags:
by Dr. Robert Kane
Air University History Office
history
Band members of the 107th African-American Infantry, shown holding their instruments, while posing for a picture at Fort Corcoran, Va., Nov., 1865. African-Americans have continuously served in the U.S. military since colonial times. (Courtesy photo from the Library of Congress)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — Many are familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, but they were not the first African-Americans to serve in the American armed forces. African-Americans have continuously served in the U.S. military since colonial times.

After the Revolutionary war began in 1775, the British offered to free any African-American slave who served with them, prompting Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress to offer the same proposal. As a result, several thousand African-Americans served as Continental Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

During the War of 1812, most states rejected attempts of African-Americans to join state militias. However, 500 African-Americans fought at New Orleans in late December 1814 and several hundred with the Navy.

At the start of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, wary of offending the slave-holding border states, prohibited African-Americans from enlisting. As the need for soldiers grew, the U.S. government lifted the restriction and began enlisting African-Americans. By April 1865, more than 200,000 had served in the Union Army and Navy and 25 of them had received the Medal of Honor.

During the Frontier Wars, African-Americans served in four segregated regiments and were known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” They fought Indians and outlaws, garrisoned forts and protected settlers. By 1900, 13 more had received the Medal of Honor.

On Feb. 15, 1898, 22 African-American sailors died when the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The Buffalo Soldiers fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and five earned the Medal of Honor. African-American soldiers also accompanied the Punitive Expedition of 1915-1917 into Mexico.

During World War I, more than 367,000 African-Americans were among the 4.5 million Americans sent to Europe, of which 42,000 saw combat. The 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Hellfighters from Harlem,” served the longest time of any American regiment and earned the French Croix de Guerre as a unit, as did 171 members. One soldier eventually received the Medal of Honor.

By 1939, the Army had only 3,600 soldiers in the segregated Buffalo Soldier regiments out of 360,000 men and the Navy had several thousand, mostly as mess stewards. The Marine Corps and the Air Corps had none.

Between December 1941 and September 1945, about 1.3 million African-Americans served in all military services. More than 95 percent of African-Americans soldiers served in combat support units and always in segregated units. The best known were the truck companies, collectively known as the “Red Ball Express,” that transported supplies, food and ammunition 24 hours a day and seven days a week to the frontline troops after the July 1944 breakout from the Normandy beachhead.

The reactivated all-African-American 92nd Infantry Division fought in northern Italy from August 1944 until April 1945. The 93rd Infantry Division, activated in May 1942, saw limited combat in the Southwest Pacific. In late December 1944, after the German breakthrough in the Ardennes, some 4,500 African-Americans served as combat soldiers. One of them, Staff Sgt. Eddie Carter, Jr., posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 1997.

Between 1942 and late 1945, the Navy had a total of 150,000 African-Americans. They served at shore duty installations or harbor or coastal vessels and as mess stewards aboard the larger ships. By September 1945, the Navy commissioned only one African-American officer and African-Americans fully manned only one naval vessel. In the same period, the Marine Corps enlisted 17,000 African-Americans, assigned mostly to supply and depot units.

The most famous African-American unit of World War II was the 332nd Fighter Group manned by the Tuskegee Airmen.

The 99th Fighter Squadron, formed on March 22, 1941, entered combat in North Africa. By May 1945, the 332nd Fighter Group, consisting of the 99th, 100th, 301st and the 302nd fighter squadrons, had established an outstanding combat record.

The Army Air Forces had enlisted 145,000 African-Americans. In many places, they not only had to deal with the prejudices of commanders and enlisted personnel, but also the prejudice of the local communities. The 4th Aviation Battalion served at Maxwell Field, Ala., living in facilities that are now part of the Federal Prison Camp.

The African-American men and women who had served in the U.S. military services during the war, performed well in leadership and technical positions, demonstrating the illogic and inefficiency of the segregation policies in place at the time.

After 1945, these policies, racial prejudices of some base commanders and few promotion and career field opportunities for African-Americans in the military produced several base disorders. Investigators squarely placed the underlying cause of the disorders on the military’s segregation policy. As a result, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July 1948, integrating the U.S. military services.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Air Force Fitness Management System slated for upgrade

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Active-duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard officers and enlisted members who want to maintain copies of their pre-July 2010 fitness records need to access the Air Force Fitness Management System (AFFMS) and save or print their records by Dec. 30, Air Force Personnel Center officials said Dec....
 
 

Gen. Hyten: Future of AF is air, space, cyberspace integration

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The commander of Air Force Space Command talked about the fundamental relationship between space operations and everyday life – not only for the military, but for the American people – during a breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club, Dec. 5. Gen. John E. Hyten, the AFSPC commander, explained the complexities of global...
 
 

Air Force looks at innovative acquisition processes

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — With new technologies rapidly coming to the forefront of the global stage, remaining the world’s greatest air force comes at an escalating cost, making responsible spending and cost-cutting initiatives high priorities for Air Force leadership. The Air Force Office of Acquisitions is partnering with industry to realize some of these initiatives and...
 

 

Officials Highlight Health, Wellness Resources for Military Families

WASHINGTON – As efforts continue to strengthen service members and their families, Pentagon officials held a Bloggers Roundtable to highlight the myriad resources available to tackle the unique military and transitional challenges those who serve may face. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Rosemary Freitas Williams, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj....
 
 

AF closes FY14 force management programs

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Airmen who met the service’s reduction in force board were notified of the board’s results Nov. 19, bringing the fiscal year 2014 force management programs to an end. The RIF board selected 354 captains and majors across the Air Force for non-retention, half of the number the service previously projected it would...
 
 

AF expands digital library content for Airmen

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) — Airmen at 19 Air Force installations around the world will soon have access to a new 200-title audiobook and eBook digital library, Air Force officials said. The 19 participating installations will help test digital content distribution using the new Air Force eReader AERO; a single portable device developed...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin