Forbidden, Forgotten, Formidable: Blacks in America’s Wars

A third new book examines African Americans’ military service

Forgotten Warriors: African Americans in American’s Wars examines America’s reluctance to allow blacks to bear arms unless a national emergency compels their service. Once the crisis passes, their heroics and achievements are quickly forgotten. This book fills a huge void in America’s understanding of our debt to the faithfulness of African Americans, despite enslavement and mistreatment.

The study is organized into eight chapters comprising 250 pages, including 45 pages of endnotes and 70 graphics. It includes an appendix naming nearly 400 black general and flag-rank officers, another naming black Medal of Honor recipients, and an extensive bibliography by chapter.

Few Americans appreciate blacks’ stalwart service to a country that despised them or the depth of oppression African Americans have endured. Most African Americans remained loyal Americans, willingly serving in the hope that by proving their manhood and steadfastness they could win acceptance and change prevailing racist attitudes.

US Colored Troops’ Civil War Service and the Buffalo Soldiers

America’s failure to integrate our armed forces not only limited blacks but diminished the United States’ potential as a nation, substantially reducing the combat effectiveness of our military forces in both world wars and in Korea. This is all the more amazing since blacks’ response to the Emancipation Proclamation’s call for service on January 1, 1863 resulted in the formation of 175 regiments, roughly 209,000 men when neither side could find replacements for horrific battlefield losses. Black soldiers and sailors turned the tide of battle, convincing Congress to form six black Regular Army regiments in 1867, reduced to four in 1869 due to budget constraints. These “Buffalo Soldiers” did yeoman duty during the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine Insurrection. Initially recognized and admired, their courage and professionalism were quickly and completely forgotten.

Truman’s directive

Despite Truman’s 1948 directive integrating the armed forces, this didn’t happen until midway through the Korean war in 1951. The last segregated army unit was integrated in 1954 – six years after Truman’s order. Thankfully, by the time of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s and 1970s, the services were the most integrated element of society. This heavily impacted the Civil Rights movement, enhancing combat effectiveness during Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Gradually, talented and dedicated black noncommissioned and commissioned officers rose through the ranks. During Desert Storm (August 1990 – February 1991), Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Calvin Walker was the deputy commander of committed forces. Today, the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force Chief of the Staff are African American and the services are a model for society at large.

This book makes the service blacks rendered known and documents the harm that racism has inflicted during most of our history. Diversity is essential if America is to redress systemic injustice and centuries-long bigotry and ultimately attain its potential.

Posted in

Gene Betit

Leave a Comment