Back at the end of February 2010, I did a presentation for the Underground Railroad conference about Black Soldiers in Post WW II Germany. I’m certainly not to replicate it here, but a few points I’ll mention.
Even though the first casualty of what would become the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre of 1770, the American colonial powers fighting Great Britain were resistant to allowing black soldiers to serve. It wasn’t until the British offered freedom to black fighters that ultimately got George Washington’s attention. Ultimately, blacks fought on both sides of the conflict, but their reason was singular: freedom.
Again, in the American Civil War, many black men felt that serving in the military was a way they might gain freedom and full citizenship. As Frederick Douglass asserted that if blacks fought, “no power on earth can deny that he has earned the right” to freedom.
General David Staunch took it upon himself to free slaves, not just on islands controlled by Union forces, but in south Florida, where he recruited men capable of bearing arms to form the first black regiment. This was ultimately opposed to, and disbanded by President Lincoln, fearing moving more quickly than “public opinion would bear.”
There was a modicum of freedom for the newly emancipated but this was negated by the Jim Crow laws and other restrictions. During World War I, WEB DuBois wrote in The Crisis magazine, “First your Country, then your Rights”. A by-then familiar refrain.
So, most of the wars fought by the United States, starting with the Revolutionary War, included a subtext, even the promise, of justice for, and fair treatment of African-Americans. World War I and especially the Civil War brought the issue to the fore.
But it was with World War II, with large numbers of black soldiers in uniform, that the contradiction between fighting for freedom for others and a lack of freedom back at home reached a tipping point. Continue reading “V is for Veteran”