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United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

African-American History Month: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality - February 2013

    In America, we share a dream that lies at the heart of our founding: that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter how modest your beginnings or the circumstances of your birth, you can make it
if you try.
President Barack Obama, Jan. 31, 2013
Presidential Proclamation


  • 1770

    Crispus Attucks

    On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks and several other patriots from Boston protested the British curbing of civil liberties in their Massachusetts colony.

  • 1775-1783

    American Revolution

    Thousands of black soldiers, both slave as well as free, from all 13 colonies fought in the Continental Army during America's war for independence from Great Britain. Many also served in state militias.

  • 1812-1815

    War of 1812

    During the War of 1812, black soldiers served in both integrated regiments as well as in all-black regiments. Many black soldiers served with courage and distinction, both on land and at sea.

  • 1814

    Free Men of Color

    Many black soldiers fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Slaves, as well as free black soldiers, constructed forts around the city in preparation for the impending British invasion. Also, blacks comprised the majority of two battalions and three companies, collectively referred to as Free Men of Color, as well as serving in integrated Louisiana militia units.

  • 1861-1865

    Civil War

    When Union troops invaded Confederate states, thousands of black slaves flocked to Union camps for a chance to fight. Many of these men were unofficially allowed to enlist in the Union Army. After President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war.

  • 1863

    Frederick Douglas

    Frederick Douglas, best known as a black orator and abolitionist, helped to establish the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army. On Aug. 13, 1863, Douglas was directed by the Secretary of War to travel from his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., to Vicksburg, Miss., "to assist in recruiting colored troops."

  • 1866-1891

    Indian Campaigns

    After the Civil War, settlers moved westward in increasing numbers. When fighting broke out with Indians, the Army was often called in to quell the uprisings.

    In 1866, Congress authorized the formation of regiments of black soldiers: the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th, 25th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments to deploy in the West to fight the Indians. The infantry regiments were later consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments.

  • 1867

    Buffalo Soldiers

    Black soldiers fought so bravely and ferociously during a battle with Cheyenne warriors in 1867, that the Cheyenne nicknamed them "Wild Buffalo."

    Over time, the term "Buffalo Soldiers" was used for all black soldiers who served during the Indian wars. Between battles, the "Buffalo Soldiers" built roads and telegraph lines, escorted supply trains and guarded stagecoach and mail routes.

    In 1868, Cathay Williams became the first black female Buffalo Soldier - she disguised herself as a male.

    Henry O. Flipper was the fifth African-American to be accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and in 1877 became the first African-American to graduate from the academy. He was the first African-American to be commissioned in the Army, or any other branch of the U.S. military. He also became the first African-American officer to command African-American soldiers in the Army when he assumed command of Troop A, 10th Calvary Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, at Fort Sill, Okla. Before Flipper took command, all African-American units were commanded by white officers.

  • 1898

    Spanish-American War

    Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments fought in the Spanish-American War. The four regiments comprised 12 percent of the total force during the invasion of Cuba.

    Many of these soldiers were veterans of the Indian Wars and some were Civil War veterans. Another 2,000 served in the Navy - they comprised 7.6 percent of all sailors.

  • 1917-1918

    World War I

    In 1917, the United States entered World War I. Despite knowing that freedom to serve their country did not in itself guarantee full participation in American society, thousands of black Americans answered the call to duty through service in the Army.

    The Army operated under a policy of racial segregation and blacks were commonly relegated to supply and labor jobs. There were, however, active black combat units that made notable contributions.

  • 1941-1945

    World War II

    In World War II, the U.S. war effort was determined to defeat fascism and to defend freedom. For black Americans, freedom in its fullest form was an ideal that was desired not only abroad, but on the homefront as well. Even though in the U.S., many blacks were treated as second-class citizens, black soldiers still served unyieldingly for their country.

  • 1941

    Tuskegee Airmen

    On July 19, 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps began training black pilots. The 926 members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen (comprised initially of the 99th Pursuit Squadron and later the 332nd Fighter Group) were trained for combat in World War II at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Known for their red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighters, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost an escorted plane to the enemy during the course of World War II, during which they carried out hundreds of escort missions.

  • 1950-1953

    Korean War

    New opportunities began to emerge for black soldiers while serving in the Korean War. In October 1951, the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment, which had served during the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the beginning of the Korean War, was disbanded. This eliminated the last lingering formal practice of segregation in the Army. Black soldiers now served in all combat service elements and were involved in all major combat operations, including the advance of United Nations Forces to the Chinese border.

  • 1959-1973

    Vietnam War

    The 1960s marked a transformation of the realities of discrimination and political equality for blacks with the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act (1964 and 1965, respectively). The 1960s also marked the full engagement of the United States in the war in Vietnam. In support of this campaign, black soldiers continued the tradition of serving the Army with distinction.

  • 1979

    Army Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown

    Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown became the first black woman general officer and the first black Chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

  • 1990-1991

    Persian Gulf War

    The Persian Gulf War developed out of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The international armed intervention followed in January 1991. Black soldiers - making up about 22 percent of the total Army - followed a rich tradition of honorably serving in the U.S. Forces.

  • 2001-2008

    Global War on Terror

    Since the Armed Forces were integrated in 1948, the Army has been committed to racial diversity and equal opportunity to all soldiers. In the past several years, the Army has become even more proactive to recruit and train a diverse force since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In 2003, there were approximately 254,000 blacks serving the Army as an Active-Duty, Reserves or National Guard soldier, or as an Army Civilian, according to the U.S. Office of Army Demographics. This was 20.3 percent of the total Army. In the general U.S. population, 12.7 percent of 18 to 55-year-olds are black.

  • 2009-Present

    Present Day

    As of 2008, black soldiers made up 19.8% of the Active Duty Army, 13.3% of the National Guard and 22.1% of the Army Reserve. Blacks serve in the Army, therefore, at a higher proportion than their representation in the general U.S. population.

    On Jan. 29, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. As president, Obama also is commander in chief of all U.S. forces.

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