Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars

Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars

Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars

Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars

Excerpt

This book is about the heroism of African Americans throughout the history of America's armed forces, and white America's refusal to recognize their many achievements, insisting until very recently that they were "natural cowards" unsuited for military combat. In America's military forces, as in all aspects of American life, black men and women have faced profound racial discrimination, even hatred. Like other members of their race throughout history, blacks in our military had to struggle against Jim Crow laws in the South that affected almost every aspect of public life, including military bases. The North usually lacked Jim Crow laws but maintained racial discrimination that was at times even more rabid than the racism that existed in the South. Until recently, America's military forces were dominated by southern beliefs and values that degraded blacks despite their military achievements.

Although black men fought valiantly in all but one of America's wars—they were not permitted to fight in the war against Mexico—the U.S. government was often opposed to the use of blacks in the armed forces, and the War Department was openly hostile to the idea. Blacks were suitable for menial labor but because they were "natural cowards"—their typical description by white southern officers and some northerners—combat was out of the question. Both within the military and in civilian life, there was also the ever-present threat of white violence. Black soldiers were murdered, and many black civilians, including women and children, were killed in riots; others were hanged, beaten to death, or burned alive. Racial integration of the military did not begin until the 1950s, but soon after, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would accelerate social changes that benefited blacks in military as well as civilian life. Overt racial discrimination slowly lessened, and more African American men and women achieved success in busi-

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