Wednesday, February 14, 2018

BHM - African Americans in Times of War - The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.

The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man's ability to fight in the "white man's war." Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit's colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.

The regiment was comprised of 1000 enlisted men, and a full complement of white officers. Captain John W. M. Appleton donated the Enlistment roll of Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The remaining recruits became the nucleus of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

African Americans In Times of War - The Slippery status of African American soldiers and civilians.

As during the American Revolution, black sailors and soldiers saw the second war with Britain as a means to advance their own agenda. For free blacks, the War of 1812 provided the chance to broker their participation in ways that enhanced their individual and collective status within society. Yet for free blacks, the war did not advance their march toward equality but rather initiated a new era of prejudice and racial discrimination. For enslaved peoples, serving as participants could provide an avenue to freedom, but it did not happen as often as expected.

After the Revolutionary War, the US government had chosen to limit the size of the American army, and this ultimately created opportunities for free blacks and slaves. The traditional fears of a large standing army, as well as burdening fiscal concerns, carried great considerations and prompted Americans to rely upon citizen soldiers. The 1792 federal militia act further defined the role of American citizens in defending their country by placing responsibility for arming the militia on the individual and making states responsible for training and enforcement of the federal and state statutes.

Each state did have the authority to clarify the federal mandate, even though most simply mimicked the wording of the 1792 act. New Jersey (1792), Vermont (1797), North Carolina (1806), and New Hampshire (1808) required free white male citizens to serve but took no position on African Americans. Some states such as North Carolina and Virginia permitted blacks to muster alongside whites. Others such as Connecticut (1784), Massachusetts (1785), and South Carolina (1800) exempted blacks from the militia altogether; South Carolina even forbade “negroes” to be “armed with any offensive weapons unless in cases of alarm.”

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Friday, February 9, 2018

BHM - African Americans in Times of War:

African Americans were indeed forced to fight, quite literally, for their survival following the war. James Weldon Johnson characterized the bloody summer of 1919 as the Red Summer. Fears of labor unrest, "bolshevism" stemming from the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the return of black soldiers spawned a nationwide surge in violence, much of it directed at African Americans. Race riots erupted in several cities, the most significant occurring in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In October 1919, whites in Elaine, Arkansas, massacred hundreds of black people in response to the efforts of sharecroppers to organize themselves. In the South, the number of reported lynchings swelled from sixty-four in 1918 to eighty-three in 1919. At least eleven of these victims were returned soldiers. For African Americans, the end of the war brought anything but peace.

How African Americans responded to the postwar resurgence of white supremacy reflected the depths to which the aspirations of the war and expectations for democracy shaped their racial and political consciousness. The war radicalized many African Americans and deepened a commitment to combat white racial violence. At the same time, the contributions of the soldiers, as well as peoples of African descent more broadly, to the war effort swelled racial pride. Marcus Garvey tapped into this social, political, and cultural milieu. A native of Jamaica, Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era. A host of other radical organizations and newspapers complemented the UNIA and signaled the arrival of the "New Negro." World War I represents a turning point in African American history, one that shaped the course of the black experience in the twentieth century.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

BHM - African Americans In Times of War: When the Civil War broke out, the union was reluctant to let black soldiers fight at all, citing concerns over white soldiers morale and the respect that black soldiers would feel entitled to when the war ended. But as the union death toll increased the skeptics relented. By wars end almost two hundred thousand black men had enlisted. Unfortunately, less cultural bandwidth had been devoted to what happened to those black troops after the fighting stopped. Few High School or college students, when they learn about military history learn about the lynching of black veterans.

In 1877 when reconstruction ended, black veterans living in Southern states quickly became targets for white violence. White Newspapers spread rumors of black soldiers assaulting white police officers. States across the South prohibited blacks from handling weapons. Compared to those who had not served, former soldiers were disproportionally assaulted, driven from their homes, and in the most extreme cases, lynched in public. In Bardstown in Nelson County, Kentucky, a mob brutally lynched a United States colored troop, stripped of his clothes, beat him and cut off his sexual organs.  He was then forced to run half a mile to a bridge outside of town where his was shot and killed.

After the war, multiple veterans were attacked immediately, often by drivers or fellow passengers on the buses and trains transporting them back to their homes. However, believe it or not, the overall experience of an enlisted black veteran did boost their sense of entitlement to certain rights. So did the more equal treatment they received, during the first and second world wars, from Europeans whom they met while stationed abroad. Often military elevated black soldiers sense of themselves as people more capable of pushing back. It is no coincidence that so many veterans including Hosea Williams and Medgar Evers, went on to play key roles in civil rights organizations.  Historically it was a provocation for black men to wear the uniform and to claim their role.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

BHM - African Americans in Times of War:
They are “demonstrating their citizenship, and their love for America, despite the fact that they are not receiving the rights that they had been promised according to the Constitution. We considered how military service in the American Revolution and the Civil War affected African American identity, i.e., black men's sense of themselves within white society, while fighting wars for freedom. In addition to the problems of war faced by all soldiers, African-American soldiers faced additional difficulties created by racial prejudice. Although many served in the infantry and artillery, discriminatory practices resulted in large numbers of African-American soldiers being assigned to perform non-combat, support duties as cooks, laborers, and teamsters. African-American soldiers were paid $10 per month, from which $3 was deducted for clothing. White soldiers were paid $13 per month, from which no clothing allowance was deducted. If captured by the Confederate Army, African-American soldiers confronted a much greater threat than did their white counterparts.
In spite of their many hardships, African-American soldiers served the Union Army well and distinguished themselves in many battles. Of their service to the nation Frederick Douglass said, "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States." African-American soldiers comprised about 10 percent of the Union Army. It is estimated that one-third of all African Americans who enlisted lost their lives.
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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

BHM - African Americans in Times of War:

When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson undertook a massive information campaign to expand support for the war.  He professed that, America would help make the world “safe for democracy.”  Democracy though, eluded an entire segment of American society who struggled with the realities of Jim Crow laws, legal segregation, and general racist attitudes.  African American citizens across the nation, especially in the American South had little access to high-paying jobs, educational opportunities, and suffered from disenfranchisement. Throughout American history, the military served as a prism through which to view larger social concepts, and the First World War was no exception.  The Marine Corps excluded blacks entirely, the Navy restricted their service to menial roles as cooks and stewards, and the Army remained racially segregated.  Despite this, many black men remained eager to reinforce their status as American citizens and fight for their country, hoping this would translate to broader social equality.  By war’s end, roughly 370,000 African Americans served in some capacity.

In order to meet the war’s demands, the War Department reorganized the US Army into a new divisional structure, and established one all-black combat division—the 92nd Division (mostly as a way of appeasing civil rights activists).  This division was comprised mostly of draftees and a select number of black volunteers and African Americans already serving in the Regular Army.  Additionally, the Army created numerous all-black support companies who served in other divisions. However, the experiences of black soldiers in World War I set the stage for the civil rights movement that emerged after the Second World War, when civil rights activists and black leaders ensured that established authorities would not continue to deny them civil liberties.  The military desegregated in 1948, and ultimately foreshadowed the larger desegregation movement that was about to begin.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

BHM - African Americans in Times of War: The Complicated History of African Americans in the Military. As we venture into Black History and the history of African Americans in the military we come to understand more deeply how the sacrifices made by African Americans who had served in the U.S. military affected the opportunities that we, as a people would have in civilian life. We would also see how the deeper understanding could change the way we, and other people of color, saw the world. What this does for us is, it makes us feel like we should be the best version of ourselves that we can be, that we haven’t squandered the sacrifices so many others made so that we could have the opportunities we have.  To speak even further, if you know what your people have gone through — if you really, really know — then there’s no stopping you from accomplishing what you want. However, that’s just one reason it’s a problem, far too many people don’t know.

In having the conversations with veterans who served many decades ago, I realized that there have been some changes.  In World War II, the military was segregated.  Black men who served were treated like second class citizens and in many cases weren’t even allowed to fight. And now it’s about the equal-opportunity employer and basically anyone can fight and the military is combined. This is considered to be a really big change concerning our military. Another change is African-Americans who join the military in this day and age are looking for opportunity and ways to better their lives. This is considered progress, more than outside of the military. When you fight with people and you die with people, and you put yourself in a place where you’re entrusting your life to someone else, the bonds you have with each other are a lot stronger than if you just work.

African Americans in Times of War is such an important part of American history and I think there’s a lot of pride that African Americans, that all people of color, can feel when they read the accounts, listen to the stories or sit back and talk with a Veteran of color. It’s important for us to know our place in history, but most times we don’t. We never learned this stuff when we were growing up so why not teach it now to our younger generation. Provide them with the history that’s missing in our schools so that they in turn can teach others.  Let these stories be told as it makes you understand why this country is our country, and that is noteworthy in the society we live in today.

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