The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell

By Mazzeno, Laurence W. | Military Review, July/August 1998 | Go to article overview
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The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell


Mazzeno, Laurence W., Military Review


THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN SOLDIER: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell by Michael Lee Lanning. 310 pages. Birch Lane Press, Secaucus, NJ. 1997. $22.50.

It might be possible to describe Michael Lee Lanning's The African-American Soldier as an updated and abridged version of Russell Weigley's 1967 History of the United States Army. Exhibiting care for historical detail, Lanning reviews in chronological progression America's involvement in seven major wars and a host of minor skirmishes within its own borders and beyond. There is an ironic twist, of course. Lanning views American military history through the eyes of African-Americans, whose participation in America's armed conflicts was often opposed, and almost always only grudgingly permitted, by the country's white majority.

For nearly two centuries, AfricanAmericans suffered the indignities of discrimination in peacetime only to find that, when the need for additional manpower arose, whites willingly used black soldiers for tasks that brought little recognition or reward. Until the 20th century's latter half, they were under the command of white officers, who were likely to be contemptuous of their abilities. Blacks were denied opportunities to become officers, and they were often assigned to menial, laborintensive tasks, even when they had been trained for specialized combat duties. Despite this, African-Americans who shared in the dangers of direct combat generally acquitted themselves well.

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