Military Organizations: Best Practices and the Status of Black Americans

By Butler, John Sibley | National Urban League. The State of Black America, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Military Organizations: Best Practices and the Status of Black Americans


Butler, John Sibley, National Urban League. The State of Black America


The purpose of this paper is to discuss the status of Black Americans, of African, European and Asian descent, within the military and identify the "best practices" which have enhanced the capacity of both the military as a whole and the people of color within it to perform to the best of their ability. My focusing on best practices, in addition to summary statistics, is a return to the literature on African Americans that developed systematically from the late 180Os and continued until about the middle of the 1960s. Best practices discussions are designed to enhance a person or an organization's ability to perform more efficiently.

Because this paper is driven by the notion of best practices, and military organizations must be seen in that light, I recall some of the early literature on best practices that relate to Black Americans. I then turn to the state of blacks within the military.

I

The exploration of "best practices" that would aid African Americans in their struggle for full citizenship stood at the very center of early research that examined the state of Black America, and celebrated the success of the group in a hostile legal and non-legal racial environment1 Henry Minton (1913), W.E.B. Du Bois (1898,1907), Booker T. Washington (1911), Abraham Harris (1936) and Joseph Pierce (1947) wrote works that explored and suggested models for successful business enterprises.2 Winold Reiss in The New Negro (1925) identified the best practices in art, literature, building educational institutions, and music. That work dove-tailed with John Chamberlain's "The Negro as a Writer," published in 1930, and the later celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, for Annie Alien. Benjamin Brawley, in "The Negro Genius" celebrated the best practices of literature and culture. The scholar Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in the 1920s in order to publicize the achievements of African Americans in all fields of endeavor, so that black individuals and organizations, and the race as a whole would be inspired to strive to do their best. One can easily see, then, from just these few references, that the celebration of best practices, and lessons from those best practices for Black America, dominated the literature on African Americans between the late 180Os and the middle 1960s.

Although best practices for Black Americans have now almost been buried in the literature (replaced with a literature which put an emphasis on what blacks cannot do, or what whites keep them from doing), the military in the era after World War II has slowly at first, and then with great vigor constructed a best-practice method of enabling African Americans to take advantage of opportunity. Although not perfect when it come to opportunities for Black Americans, it has provided an opportunity structure that is unmatched by other institutions. The state of Black America within the military is the result of the need to defend the country and the extraordinary patriotism of black Americans. Unlike English-Americans, Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Pre-Columbia Americans (sometimes called Native Americans) and Mexican Americans, African Americans have never, historically, fought against the United States.

II

Today, we examine the status of black Americans in the military in the context of America at War. Since September 11,2001, President Bush, as Commander-in-Chief of the military, has been developing strategy for a war on terror, and secretary of State CoUn Powell, the former Army General and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stands in the center of the Administration's diplomatic efforts to thwart terrorism. Born in Harlem of Jamaican immigrants, he is cut out of the same cloth that the best practice scholarship on Black Americans published during an earlier time period. His father was a merchant, involved heavily with a Presbyterian college. Education runs deep in his family. …

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