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

I’ve just completed a third new book, Forgotten Warriors: African Americans in American’s Wars, examining America’s tendency to prohibit blacks from bearing arms until a national emergency compels their service. Once the crisis passes, their heroics, service, and achievements are quickly forgotten. This books fills a huge void in America’s understanding of our debt to the faithfulness of African Americans despite enslavement and oppression.

The study is organized into eight chapters comprising 250 pages, supported by 45 pages of endnotes and over 60 graphics. It also includes an appendix listing nearly 400 black general and flag-rank officers, another naming black Medal of Honor recipients, and an extensive bibliography for each chapter.

Few Americans appreciate blacks’ consistent, faithful service to a country that despised them or the depth of oppression African Americans have endured. Remaining loyal Americans, they willingly served in the hope that in proving their manhood and steadfastness they would win acceptance and change prevailing racist attitudes.

America’s failure to integrate our armed forces not only harmed blacks but diminished the United States’ potential as a nation, 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 200,000 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 and the Spanish-American War. Widely recognized and admired, their courage and professionalism was soon completely forgotten, as was African Americans’ Civil War service.

Despite Truman’s 1948 directive for the integration of 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. The success of integration in the services impacted the Civil Rights movement in major ways and enhanced 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.

Vice President Karmala Harris swears Lloyd Austin Jr. as Secretary of Defense. Right: USAF General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.

This book makes the service blacks rendered known and documents the harm that racism has inflicted in the past. It is clear that diversity is essential if the country is to redress systemic injustice and centuries-long bigotry and ultimately attain our potential.

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Gene Betit

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