The African American Abolitionist Frederick Douglas once asked the question, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” For many Blacks that served in the military that question was very relevant when discussing the importance of Veteran’s Day.
On Monday of this week, we honored all veterans that have served in the United States military. Veteran’s Day is a federal holiday celebrating the bravery of the American men and women in uniform. While the holiday is profound, many feel that special recognition must be given to those who fought for a country that they loved that refused to consider them as “true” or complete citizens.
According to official government records, a million African Americans joined the military during World War II as volunteers or draftees. Another 1.5 million registered for the draft. The problem came after the ware when many Black servicemen and women failed to receive their fair share of the benefits under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or the G.I. Bill.
While Black soldiers fought the enemy abroad, they also had to deal with the enemy at home – battling open racism and segregation from the very people that they were risking their lives for.
There are countless accounts from African American soldiers that chronicle their service during various wars or conflicts and coming home to be treated like a second-class citizen. In fact, some Blacks soldiers said that military dogs received more reverence than African American military personnel.
Not only was the U.S. military segregated during World War II, but black soldiers were also excluded from most victory parades that followed. And although many history books don’t tell the story, African Americans truly played a prominent role in the United States’ victories in WWII.
The Tuskegee Airmen escorted bombers on runs in North Africa and parts of Europe and never lost a bomber. The 761st Tank Battalion, known as the ‘Black Panthers,’ landed in France four months after the D-Day invasion and later liberated concentration camps. It wasn’t until thirty-three years after the war ended that the group received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Sometimes simple recognition goes a long way.
The United States has the most powerful military in the world, and we historically have stood “united” against terrorism, evil dictators and injustice around the world. Unfortunately we have never been united against racism, bigotry and discrimination.