African Americans have been, since the Revolutionary War, the invisible strength in America's defense. But while vital to the country's security, their worth was not always acknowledged. Consequently, America's African-American fighting men and women were forced into a defensive struggle within their own country. In every battle, African Americans have historically faced a series of negative attitudes, war after war, which questioned even their right to die for America.
The following montage (“Black Patriot Generals”) of the four of America’s bravest African-American generals (Colin Powell, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Frank Petersen and Daniel “Chappie” James) – and the Black WACs of WWII – recall, in their own words, the stories that wrote one of the bravest chapters in America’s history.
The truth is that African-Americans have been willing to die for the rights denied them in an otherwise democratic American society. The military, since the Civil War, has afforded many African Americans an opportunity to get an education, make a living and defend their country.
The country historically, up until World War II, resisted recruitment of African American men in the armed services. It was widely thought unwise to train African American men in the art of warfare. It was feared that men who waded through blood to victory would become more militant. The country's military establishment has had to eventually come to the realization, after two turbulent centuries, that African-American manpower is vital to America's defense and survival.
African-American women in the military service also did not receive proper recognition for their service. Reflecting that apartheid custom, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was the only African-American WAC unit to serve overseas in WWII. This unit was responsible for redirecting the mail to the GI's on the battlefield, a Sisyphean feat, considering that troops were constantly on the move. When the 6888th arrived in England, for example, there was a backlog of more than three million pieces of undelivered mail. The all-Black unit broke all records in solving the problem. They worked day and night in eight-hour shifts, averaging more than 65,000 pieces of mail, and won the praises and admiration of the Army brass. Although the 6888th was considered one of the best units in the women's army, Black or White, it was the only overseas unit during WWII that did not receive a citation.
The pilots of America’s WWII armed forces were highly skilled flyers who became the stars of war stories and the ingredients of legends. These pilots were and are the first line of defense, the protectors of our fleets and the rulers of the skies against all enemies. From their unique perspective, these aviators, including members of America’s only all-Black air force – the Tuskegee Airmen, had to answer the odious question: “Can African Americans fly airplanes and fight?”
In spite of the obstacles, the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron was established and subsequently sent overseas to fight the Nazi menace and test the validity of "the experiment” to measure Black manhood. The 99th proved that African Americans can fly and the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen guaranteed that the combat ability of Blacks can never again be denied. Therefore, the battle for an integrated military was won largely by the battle-tested performance of the Tuskegee Airmen.
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