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The African American Soldier: The Fight for Respect
The African American soldier joined the battle to preserve the Union and rid it of slavery. However, their service only signaled the beginning of a century-long struggle to earn their rightful place in the military. This Microsoft PowerPoint presentation reviews the role of African Americans in the Civil War and their contributions and struggles since this conflict.  The slide presentation is intended to highlight the personal conflicts that African Americans confronted in their desire to serve their country in the face of discrimination in the military at a home.
Many northern leaders advocated the recruitment of African American soldiers for service in the Union army.  Perhaps, Frederick Douglas expressed it best when he said: "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 pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States." By the end of 1862 black soldiers were fighting for the Union. Volunteer units from different states, along with the U.S. Colored Troops, served with distinction throughout the Civil War. Black soldiers won a total of 15 Congressional Medals of Honor, while another 7 African-American sailors were also honored for their heroism. By January 1864, even Confederate officers began to appreciate the need for recruiting blacks for military service. The southern civilian leadership, however, opposed the idea until the final months of the war. By the time President Jefferson Davis signed a bill on 13 March 1865 authorizing the enlistment of slaves beginning 3 April, it was too late to save the Confederacy.
On April 15, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 3 months. Black men rushed to join the Union army in 1861, but they were rejected by the Union Army.
Lincoln did not want to risk antagonizing the Border States or the Butternut Region.  Many northern whites did not think it appropriate for blacks to fight a "white man’s war."  Most whites (including the president) did not think blacks would be good soldiers.
Jacob Dodson offered the services of  “300 reliable colored free citizens of” Washington, DC “who desire to enter the service for the defense of the city.” His offer was refused by the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, who said , “This department has no intention at present to call into the service of the Government any colored soldiers.”
Similar efforts were defeated in Cleveland, New York City, Rhode Island and Ohio.  In Ohio, Governor David Tod, said “Do you not know, that this is a white man’s government; that white men are able to defend it and protect it, and that to enlist a Negro soldier would be to drive every white man out of the service?” 
At a Boston meeting, blacks passed a resolution: "Our feelings urge us to say to our countrymen that we are ready to stand by and defend our Government as the equals of its white defenders; to do so with 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,' for the sake of freedom, and as good citizens; and we ask you to modify your laws, that we may enlist, -- that full scope may be given to the patriotic feelings burning in the colored man's breast."
On July 17, 1862, Congress amended the Enlistment Act of 1795 giving the president authority to enlist African Americans, but Lincoln still refused to act on Congress's recommendation. On July 17, 1862, Congress passed two acts allowing the enlistment of African Americans, but official enrollment occurred only after the September, 1862 issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In general, white soldiers and officers believed that black men lacked the courage to fight and fight well. On August 4, 1862 General Sprague of Rhode Island asked for Black men to enlist as soldiers in the state militia. When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 it included a provision for including African Americans to enlist.  “And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.“
The War Department began to aggressively recruit African Americans.
The song A Soldier in de Colored Brigade indicates the enthusiasm and motivations of African Americans in joining the Union army.
In April 1861 the free blacks of New Orleans, Louisiana, began organizing a Native Guard battalion with officers of their own race. The state government approved this action and commissioned the black officers. The commanding general of the white and black troops sent a telegram to Confederate authorities in November 1861 because he was "elated at the success of being first to place negroes in the field together with white troops…." Since their first duty was to defend New Orleans, the Native Guards refused to serve elsewhere for the Confederacy once Union forces captured the city. Many of the men later fought for the Union.
In May 1862 Major General David C. Hunter pioneered the recruiting of blacks by organizing the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry at Beaufort. The War Department disrupted this effort until the end of August 1862. Although not officially called to active duty until January 31, 1863, Company A of Hunter’s 1st South Carolina was unofficially the very first unit of former slaves permitted to join the Union Army. It was re-designated the 33rd Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in February 1864. It mustered out in January 1866.
In September 1861the Secretary of the Navy authorized the enlistment of African Americans into the US. Navy.
"Negroes were readily accepted all along the coast on board the war vessels, it being no departure from the regular and established practice in the service." By the end of the Civil War about 8% of Union sailors were African Americans.
“The experiment of arming the blacks, so far as I have made it, has been a complete and even marvellous success. They are sober, docile, attentive, and enthusiastic, displaying great natural capacities for acquiring the duties of a soldier. They are eager beyond all things to take the field and be led into action; and it is the unanimous opinion of the officers who have had charge of them, that in the peculiarities of this climate and country, they will prove invaluable auxiliaries, fully equal to the similar regiments so long and successfully used by the British authorities in the West Indies. In conclusion I would say it is my hope, there appearing to be no possibility of other reinforcements owing to the exigencies of the campaign in the peninsular, to have organized by the end of next fall and to be able to present to the Government from forty-eight to fifty thousand of these hardy and devoted soldiers.” - General David Hunter Hunter was a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause. After the Battle of Fort Pulaski, he began enlisting black soldiers from the occupied districts of South Carolina and formed the first such Union Army regiment, the 1st South Carolina (African Descent, which he was initially ordered to disband, but eventually got approval from Congress for his action. A second controversy was caused by his issuing an order emancipating the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida
The first use of African American troops in combat involved a 225-man detachment from the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. These troops fought in a 2-day engagement (October 27-28, 1862) at Island Mound, Missouri.  A total of 10 men were killed and 12 were wounded. Accounts of the battle praised the black soldiers’ martial skills and bravery. In response to the North’s use of African American troops, Confederate President Jefferson Davis "raised the black flag" against the North.  On  December 23, 1862 he signed a proclamation ordering the execution of any white Union officers of black troops. Davis also said that "all negro slaves captured in arms" were to be turned over to the authorities "of the respective States to which they belong, and…dealt with according to the laws of said States." This decision was subsequently endorsed in May 1863 by a resolution passed by the Confederate Congress. After the massacre at Fort Pillow in April 1864, President Lincoln responded by announcing an equal exchange of executions and hard labor sentences for Confederate officers and enlisted men being held prisoner by the Union.
At first, black Union soldiers were unfairly treated, given inferior arms, relegated to fatigue duty, and paid less than half of what white soldiers were. Some black soldiers refused any pay for 18 months to protest the unfair treatment, and were eventually granted equal pay and improved conditions. The demeaning expectations of some white officers about the ability of soldiers assigned to the 54th are brought to light. Many saw these men as simple children who were unable to perform in the same way as traditional white soldiers because of a lower mental capacity. Some officers simply did not believe they were equal to whites as men. After the war, Congress passed an act after long debate, stating that black soldiers would be issued the same uniform, weapons, equipment, rations, medical and hospital attendance, pay, and emoluments, other than bounty, as other soldiers.
Union and Confederate troops had frequently skirmished in the vicinity of Honey Springs Depot. The Union commander in the area, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, correctly surmised that Confederate forces, mostly Native American troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, were about to attack his force at Fort Gibson. He decided to defeat the them at Honey Springs before they were joined by reinforcements from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Blunt crossed the Arkansas River on July 15, 1863 with a force of 3,000 men, composed of whites, Native Americans, and African Americans and marched toward Honey Springs. Blunt skirmished with Rebel troops early on the morning of the 17th and full-scale fighting began by mid-afternoon. The Confederates had wet powder, causing misfires, and the problem intensified when rain began.  After repulsing one attack, Cooper pulled his forces back to obtain new ammunition. Cooper learned that Blunt was about to turn his left flank and ordered a retreat. After this battle, Union forces controlled Indian Territory, north of the Arkansas River.
The Battle of Honey Springs was one of the earliest engagements in which blacks proved their qualities as fighting men. General Blunt praised the blacks and said in his official report on the battle: "The First Kansas (colored) particularly distinguished itself; they fought like veterans, and preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement. Their coolness and bravery I have never seen surpassed; they were in the hottest of the fight, and opposed to Texas troops twice their number, whom they completely routed. One Texas regiment (the 20th Cavalry) that fought against them went into the fight with 300 men and came out with only sixty."
In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and with the federal government’s permission, Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts ordered the organization of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment in February 1863 The first 25 volunteers were organized at Camp Meigs, Readville, MA. The recruitment area was expanded to include the entire Union and its territories because of problems enlisting enough black volunteers from New England,. Black and white abolitionists, most notably Frederick Douglass, also helped Massachusetts attract the necessary numbers of African Americans. The 54th Massachusetts earned widespread fame for its unsurpassed bravery during the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. The unit’s white commanding officer, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and 116 enlisted men died in the unsuccessful attempt to take the Confederate fort. Another 156 members of the 54th were wounded or captured during this battle. Sergeant William H. Carney’s bravery under fire during the assault on Fort Wagner earned him the Medal of Honor. He was the first African American to receive this prestigious award. Another 14 black soldiers were also honored with this medal for their heroism during the Civil War.
The risk to African American soldiers was demonstrated at the Battle of Fort Pillow, TN 13 April 13, 1864. The fort was attacked by Confederate troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Before Forrest could mount up and ride into the fort to restore order, an unknown number of Union troops reportedly were shot down while attempting to surrender. A Confederate officer noted that: "The wildest confusion prevailed among those who had run down the bluff. Many of them had thrown down their arms while running and seemed desirous to surrender while many others had carried their guns with them and were loading and firing back up the bluff at us with a desperation which seemed worse than senseless. We could only stand there and fire until the last man of them was ready to surrender."
In an interview after the war, Forrest said:. "When we got into the fort the white flag was shown at once. The negroes ran out down to the river; and although the [white] flag was flying, they kept on turning back and shooting at my men, who consequently continued to fire into them crowded on the brink of the river, and they killed a good many of them in spite of my efforts and those of their officers to stop them. But there was no deliberate intention nor effort to massacre the garrison as has been so generally reported by the Northern papers."
The Fort Pillow Massacre continues to be debated, but similar occurrences at other battles seems to confirm that surrendering troops were killed.  Fort Pillow became a rallying cry for African Americans for the remainder of the war.
The engagement at Poison Springs, Arkansas on April 18, 1864 was another instance of atrocities against African American troops. Union Major General Frederick Steele, during a diversionary campaign south of Little Rock, Arkansas, sent a party of 1000 troops on a foraging expedition. Among Steele’s troops was the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry. While returning from their successful quest for supplies, the detachment encountered a significantly larger Confederate force at Poison Spring. After intense fighting, the Confederates prevailed. The 1st Kansas sustained very heavy losses in this skirmish—117 killed out of 182 men who fought (64%). Many of the fatalities were the result of intense racial hatred. The Confederates and their Choctaw allies killed the African-American soldiers as they attempted to surrender or as they laid wounded on the battlefield.
During the siege of Petersburg, VA the armies were aligned along a series of fortified positions and trenches more than 20 miles long. Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, commander of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry of Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps and a mining engineer from Pennsylvania, proposed digging a long mine shaft underneath the Confederate lines and planting explosive charges directly underneath a fort (Elliott’s Salient) in the middle of the Confederate First Corps line. Pleasants believed that the explosion would  kill all the defenders in the area and open a hole in the Confederate defenses. Burnside hoped that enough Union troops could fill the breach quickly enough and drive into the Confederate rear area where the Confederates would not be able to launch a counterattack, and Petersburg might fall. On July 30th the Federals exploded a mine in Burnside’s IX Corps sector beneath Elliott’s salient, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses. Unfortunately instead of going around the crater as planned, many units charged into the crater.  The Confederates quickly recovered and launched several counterattacks led by Maj. Gen. William Mahone. The break was sealed off, and the Federals were repulsed with severe casualties. Ferrarro’s division of black soldiers was badly mauled. This may have been Grant’s best chance to end the Siege of Petersburg. Instead, the soldiers settled in for another eight months of trench warfare.
From the beginning of the war, Confederate engineers worked to build permanent defenses around Richmond.  By 1864, they had created a system anchored south of the capital on the James River at Chaffin’s Farm. This outer line was supported by an intermediate and inner system of fortifications much closer to the capital. The strength of these lines remained untested until September 1864 when General Ulysses S. Grant tried to capture Richmond or Petersburg by attacking simultaneously north and south of the James. The attack north of the river occurred on September 29th. Troops under Federal General Benjamin Butler launched attacks on two fronts. The Union X Corps advanced against New Market Heights north of Deep Bottom, while the XVIII Corps attacked Fort Harrison. Maj. Gen. David B. Birney moved the X Corps north from the Deep Bottom bridgehead toward the Confederate works atop New Market Heights manned by Brig. Gen. John Gregg. A brigade of U.S. Colored Troops attacked the heights but was repulsed. Christian Fleetwood’s actions In this attack earned him the Medal of Honor. Birney reinforced the assault force and stormed the heights again. Alfred Terry’s division managed to turn the Confederate left flank, thus turning the tide of the battle. Word of Union success against Fort Harrison then reached Gregg, compelling him to pull Confederate troops back to Forts Gregg, Gilmer and Johnson. Once Birney's troops had taken New Market Heights, the X Corps turned to the northwest along the New Market Road and moved against a secondary line of works guarding Richmond north of Fort Harrison. Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster's X Corps division assaulted a small salient known as . David Birney's brother, Brig. Gen. William Birney, led a brigade of U.S. Colored Troops against  south of Fort Gilmer. These attacks were marked by heroism among the Colored Troops but were ultimately repulsed.
In March 1863 Congress passed the first national Conscription Act, requiring the enlistment of males between 20 and 45. Substitutes or a payment of $300 could be used for exemption. Although the new law did not exclude African Americans, resentment against the act erupted into violence against blacks who were accused of starting the Civil War. During the four days from 13 to 16 July 1863, primarily Irish-Americans and other poorer men hit hard by the new act, participated in draft riots in New York City, destroying property and lynching blacks. Federal troops were called in to restore order.
Early in the Civil War prisoners were commonly paroled and sent home to await a formal exchange before they could return to active service. After an incident at Fort Pillow in Tennessee during which Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest's troops executed a group of mostly black Union troops after their surrender, Union General Ulysses S. Grant voided that policy on the Union's part, and Federal authorities began to hold Confederate captives in formal prison camps rather than paroling them, until the Confederacy pledged to treat white and black Union soldiers alike. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee refused this proposal and the Confederates began to construct camps to hold Union prisoners.
“As we entered the place a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!" and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating.”
Because of the scarce resources of the Confederacy, Andersonville prison was frequently short of food, and even when this was sufficient in quantity, it was of a poor quality and poorly prepared on account of the lack of cooking utensils. The water supply became polluted under the congested conditions. During the summer of 1864, the prisoners suffered greatly from hunger, exposure, and disease, and in seven months about a third of them died from dysentery and were buried in mass graves.
During the war almost 45,000 prisoners were received at the Andersonville prison, and of these 12,913 died (40% of all the Union prisoners that died throughout the South).
Of the 3,463 Medals of Honor awarded as of April 2007, 88 have been awarded to 87 different African American recipients.  Robert Augustus Sweeney is one of only 19 men, and the only African American, to be awarded two Medals of Honor.
Andrew Jackson Smith - Civil War - Battle of Honey Hill, SC - 1864
James H. Harris – Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, VA  - 1864
Christian Abraham Fleetwood - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA  - 1864
James Daniel Gardner - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA - 1864
Robert A. Pinn - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA - 1864
Powhattan Beaty – Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA - 1864
Benjamin Brown – Indian Wars – Arizona – 1889
Vernon Joseph Baker - World War II – Italy – 1945
Charles Calvin Rogers - Vietnam War – Fishook Region - 1968
Cornelius H. Charlton - Korean War - Chipo-ri, Korea – 1951
Milton Lee Olive - Vietnam War - Phu Cuong, Vietnam - 1965
African American soldiers comprised 10% of the entire Union Army. Losses among African Americans were high, and from all reported casualties, approximately one-third of all African Americans enrolled in the military lost their lives during the Civil War.
Susie King Taylor, Civil War nurse, cook, and laundress, was raised a slave on an island off the coast of Georgia. In April of 1861, Major General Hunter assaulted Fort Pulaski and freed all the slaves in the area, including Mrs. King. When Union officers raised the First South Carolina Volunteers (an all-black unit), Mrs. King signed on as laundress and nurse. Able to read and write, she also set up a school for black children and soldiers.
Mrs. King's experiences as a black employee of the Union Army are recounted in her diary. She wrote of the unequal treatment,
“The first colored troops did not receive any pay for eighteen months, and the men had to depend wholly on what they received from the commissary...their wives were obliged to support themselves and children by washing for the officers, and making cakes and pies which they sold to the boys in camp. Finally, in 1863, the government decided to give them half pay, but the men would accept none of this... They preferred rather to give their services to the state, which they did until 1864, when the government granted them full pay, with all back due pay.”
"William Cathey" served from November 15, 1866, until her discharge with a surgeon's certificate of disability on October 14, 1868. Despite numerous and often lengthy hospital stays during her service, her sex was not revealed until June 1891, when Cathay Williams applied for an invalid pension and disclosed her true identity. She did not receive the pension, not because she was a woman, but because her disabilities were not service related. Cathay was probably the first black woman to serve in the US Regular Army.
The Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery.  Approved December 6, 1865
The Fourteenth Amendment provides a broad definition of United States citizenship, overturning the Dred Scott case, which excluded African Americans. It requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons (not only to citizens) within their jurisdictions, and was used in the mid-20th century to dismantle legal segregation, as in Brown v. Board of Education. Approved July 28, 1868
The Fifteenth Amendment provides that governments in the United States may not prevent a citizen from voting based on that citizen's race, color, or previous condition of servitude (i.e. slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870.
1-3 May 1866  During 3 days of racial violence in Memphis, Tennessee, white civilians and police killed 46 African Americans and injured numerous others. At least two whites were also killed. In addition, mobs burned 90 houses, 12 schools, and 4 churches. The establishment of Fort Pickering, a post for black troops, and the use of black soldiers to patrol the city contributed to the tension that erupted into one of the bloodiest riots of the Reconstruction Era. It was only one of several violent outbreaks in the South that helped Radical Republicans win support for their own plan of Military Reconstruction.
In 1869 Robert Brown Elliot served as adjutant general of South Carolina, with responsibility for establishing a state militia to protect black and white citizens from the Ku Klux Klan. The following year, he became the first black general to command the South Carolina National Guard.
On June 15, 1877 Henry O. Flipper, born into slavery in Georgia, became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After joining the 10th Cavalry, 2nd Lieutenant Flipper served as the Army’s only black officer until 1882 when he was court-martialed for embezzling funds from the commissary. Although acquitted, the Army still discharged him for "conduct unbecoming an officer." Almost 100 years later, his innocence was substantiated during an official records review, which cleared Flipper’s name and changed his dismissal to an honorable discharge.
The Jim Crow laws (named after "Jump Jim Crow", a song-and-dance caricature of African Americans) were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for black Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided white Americans. The most important laws required that public schools, public places and public transportation have separate buildings, toilets, and restaurants for whites and blacks.
During the Reconstruction period of 1865-76, federal law provided civil rights protection in the South for freedmen—the African-Americans who had formerly been slaves. Reconstruction ended at different dates (the latest 1877), and was followed in each Southern state by Redeemer governments that passed the Jim Crow laws to separate the races. In the Progressive Era the restrictions were formalized, and segregation was extended to the federal government by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
1-3 May 1866  During 3 days of racial violence in Memphis, Tennessee, white civilians and police killed 46 African Americans and injured numerous others. At least two whites were also killed. In addition, mobs burned 90 houses, 12 schools, and 4 churches. The establishment of Fort Pickering, a post for black troops, and the use of black soldiers to patrol the city contributed to the tension that erupted into one of the bloodiest riots of the Reconstruction Era. It was only one of several violent outbreaks in the South that helped Radical Republicans win support for their own plan of Military Reconstruction.
In 1869 Robert Brown Elliot served as adjutant general of South Carolina, with responsibility for establishing a state militia to protect black and white citizens from the Ku Klux Klan. The following year, he became the first black general to command the South Carolina National Guard.
On June 15, 1877 Henry O. Flipper, born into slavery in Georgia, became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After joining the 10th Cavalry, 2nd Lieutenant Flipper served as the Army’s only black officer until 1882 when he was court-martialed for embezzling funds from the commissary. Although acquitted, the Army still discharged him for "conduct unbecoming an officer." Almost 100 years later, his innocence was substantiated during an official records review, which cleared Flipper’s name and changed his dismissal to an honorable discharge.
28 July 1866  Radical Republicans in Congress pushed through legislation allowing blacks to serve in the armed forces during peacetime. In the resulting reorganization, the U.S. Army established 67 regiments, 6 of which were all black. There were two cavalry (the 9th and 10th) and four infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st) units, each containing about 1000 men. Blacks were excluded from the five artillery units, because white leaders believed African Americans did not have the required technical skills. Most of the blacks who enlisted in the reorganized U.S. Army were Civil War veterans.
In 1869 the Army reorganized its black infantry units, combining the original four regiments into two—the 24th and 25th Infantry. They, along with the 9th and 10th Cavalry, saw action in the ongoing Indian wars that troubled the West between 1865 and 1898. During this period of service, the Native Americans began referring to the black troopers as "buffalo soldiers." This nickname was derived partly from the soldiers’ physical characteristics (i.e., dark skin and tightly curled hair) which were reminiscent of the buffalo, and partly from the Indian warriors’ respect for the black troopers’ fighting abilities.
During the Battle of Las Guasimas, Cuba on June 24, 1898, Major Bell of the 1st Cavalry had gone down with a wound to the leg. Captain C.G. Ayers attempted to carry him from the field, but his shattered leg bone broke through the skin causing so much pain that Ayers had to let him down.
The fire was so intense that in one plot of ground fifty feet square sixteen men were killed or wounded. Still, there was a fellow American soldier badly hurt and in need of assistance, and Private Augustus Walley-of the famed "Buffalo Soldiers,"-his compassion overcoming self-preservation, ran to help. Between Ayers and Walley, Bell was dragged to safety. The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry-"Buffalo Soldiers"-were recipients of Hand-me-down uniforms, equipment, weapons...and discrimination. Of all American soldiers, they had the hardest fight. There was not only the enemy to defeat, but the hearts and minds of their fellow soldiers to be won.
Harlem Hell fighters is the popular name for the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment. The unit was also known as The Black Rattlers, in addition to several other nicknames. The 369th Infantry Regiment was known for being the first African-American Regiment during WWI. The 369th Infantry Regiment was constituted June 2, 1913 in the New York Army National Guard as the . It was organized on June 29, 1916 at New York City. It was  into Federal service on July 25, 1917 at  , New York. It was drafted into Federal service August 5, 1917. The regiment trained in the New York Area, performed Guard Duty at various locations in New York, and trained more intensely at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they experienced significant racism from the local communities, and other units. The 15th Infantry Regiment, NYARNG was Assigned on December 1, 1917 to the . It was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York, which sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, which the club had also sponsored in the Civil War.
The black airmen who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee Alabama. The first aviation cadet class began in July 1941 and completed training nine months later in March 1942. Thirteen started in the first class. Five successfully completed the training, one of them being Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Point Academy graduate. The other four were commissioned second lieutenants, and all five received Army Air Corps silver pilot wings. From 1942 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-four pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at selected military bases elsewhere in the United States. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.
Executive Order 9981 is an executive order issued on July 26, 1948 by President Harry S. Truman. It expanded on Executive Order 8802 by establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, or national origins.
The operative statement is:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.
The order also established a committee to investigate and make recommendations to the civilian leadership of the military to realize the policy.
Among the order's effects was the elimination of Montford Point as a segregated Marine boot camp (the camp became a satellite facility of Camp Lejeune). The last of the all-black units in the United States military was abolished in September 1954.
Fifteen years after Truman's order, on July 26, 1963 Robert S. McNamara issued Directive 5120.36 obligating military commanders to utilize the economic might of the military against facilities used by soldiers or their families that discriminated based upon sex or race.
Jesse L. Brown became the U.S. Navy's first black aviator in October 1948. He was killed when his plane was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was unable to eject from his crippled F4U Corsair and crash-landed successfully. His injuries and damage to his aircraft prevented him from leaving the plane. A white squadron mate crash-landed his F4U Corsair near Brown and attempted to extricate Brown but could not and Brown died of his injuries. The U.S. Navy honored Jesse Brown by naming an escort ship after him — the U.S.S. Jesse L. Brown.[ The Vietnam War saw many great accomplishments by many African Americans, including twenty who received the Medal of Honor for their actions. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, for a "very special kind of courage — the unarmed heroism of compassion and service to others." Joel was the first living African American to receive the Medal of Honor since the Mexican–American War. He was a medic who in 1965 saved the lives of U.S. troops under ambush in Vietnam and defied direct orders to stay to the ground, walking through Viet Cong gunfire and tending to the troops despite being shot twice himself. The Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is dedicated to his honor.[47] On August 21, 1968, with the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor, U.S. Marine James Anderson, Jr. became the first African-American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions and sacrifice of life. On December 10, 1968, U.S. Army Captain Riley Leroy Pitts became the first African American commissioned officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor. His medal was presented posthumously to his wife, Mrs. Eula Pitts, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Army General Colin Powell to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making Powell the highest ranking officer in the United States military. Powell was the first, and is so far the only, African American to hold that position. The Chairman serves as the chief military adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense. During his tenure Powell oversaw the 1989 United States invasion of Panama to oust General Manuel Noriega and the 1990 to 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. General Powell's four-year term as Chairman ended in 1993. General William E. "Kip" Ward was officially nominated as the first commander of the new United States Africa Command on July 10, 2007 and assumed command on October 1, 2007. He is currently the active military's only black four-star general.