On November 11th, 1918, at 11 a.m, World War I concluded after four years of brutal combat across the globe. Many memorial tributes were held in honor of the soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. This universal recognition of the end of the war and celebrating the soldiers who were lost in battle became known as “Armistice Day.”
In 1926, Armistice Day was officially recognized in America to honor World War I veterans by virtue of a Congressional resolution and it became a national holiday 12 years later with the first celebration held in Birmingham, Alabama using the phrase “Veterans Day.”
Although Black soldiers have valiantly served in the military since the Revolutionary War, their sacrifice, contributions, and valor are often tragically overlooked by the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Many laid down their lives for a country that dehumanized them as second-class citizens with the pervasive force of racial injustice. As they served their nation by fighting for freedom in foreign lands, they were denied basic human rights in their own country. On this Veterans Day, we remember the rich legacy of Black soldiers.
The history of Black military veterans is fraught with duality. Black soldiers who fought under the umbrella of “freedom and democracy” across seas, returned to fight a greater evil at home in the form of racial discrimination. For example, the Harlem Hellfighters, who received honors in France for their tour of duty during World World I, were not invited to participate in their own country's homecoming parade. Posthumously, a century later, the Harlem Hellfighters were awarded a Congressional Medal for their service.
While their white counterparts received adulation from the public and benefits such as the G.I. Bill backed by the federal government, Black soldiers were routinely denied the benefits, essentially making the hope of the “American Dream” a nightmarish reality.
Bryan Stevenson, author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, noted how Black soldiers are regularly not given their proper recognition in an interview with The New Yorker.
“We do so much in this country to celebrate and honor folks who risk their lives on the battlefield,” Stevenson argued. “But we don’t remember that Black veterans were more likely to be attacked for their service than honored for it.”
Undoubtedly, because of the tremendous sacrifice of Black servicemen and women, many strides have been made as African Americans have obtained high ranks throughout all branches of the military. Today, serving in the administration of President Joe Biden, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III became the first Black American to be appointed Secretary of Defense. In 2011, Major. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson became the Army's first Black female reserve officer to obtain the rank of major general.
On Veterans Day, we celebrate the bravery of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines, the unyielding courage of Cathay Williams, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, Brig. Gen. Hazel Jones Brown, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and so many others, B
Black Americans have a storied history of serving their country with distinction in the military. They served with excellence despite insurmountable odds to hold America to its promise that we are all “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We at EBONY honor the legacy of Black military veterans.