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Black History Month: Remembering African American Military Heroes

By Natasha Blakemore-Evans | February 11, 2019 

February is Black History Month. On February 10, 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and called upon people to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” 

Last year’s Black History Month’s theme was “African Americans in Times of War.” The United States of America has long been recognized for its strong military presence around the world. During the 2019 Black History Month, we would like to highlight a few of the many military contributions that have been made by African American men and women. 

Black History Month blog header image with military heros

Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917 and one of the first regiments to arrive in France was the 369th Infantry (formerly the 15th Regiment New York Guard) more gallantly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” Henry Johnson and Neadham Roberts were members of the 369th Regiment Infantry. Each was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre. During World War I more than 380,000 African Americans served in the wartime Army. Most were sent abroad and were assigned to labor and stevedore battalions, where they performed essential duties such as building roads, bridges, and trenches in support of the front-line battles. Roughly 42,000 saw combat. 

Admiral Michelle J. Howard was born on April 30, 1960, is the first black woman to command a US Navy ship - USS Rushmore and was selected for the rank of Rear Admiral (Lower Half) in 2006. Admiral Howard was the first woman to become a US Navy four-star Admiral on July 1, 2014. As Vice Chief of Naval Operations, which she began the same day as her four-star appointment to Admiral, Howard became the first African-American and the first woman to hold that post. Admiral Howard also played a key role in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips — the man whose kidnapping by Somali pirates became a major motion picture film starring Tom Hanks.

A native of St. Louis, General Roscoe Robinson Jr. attended St. Louis University for a year before transferring to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1947. In 1975, after serving in Vietnam, General Robinson made rank as a Brigadier General. A year later he made history by becoming the first African-American four-star general of the United States Army, commanding the 82nd airborne division. General Robinson was awarded the Bronze Star: one of the US military’s highest distinctions. 

Major General Harry W. Brooks Jr., a native of Indianapolis was the commanding general of the famed 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. Brooks graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1947; was appointed Army Director of Equal Opportunity Programs at the Pentagon in 1972; and promoted to Major General in 1974. Brooks mentored numerous subordinates. One of his most prominent mentees was General Colin Powell, who later went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of the United States.

"Our responsibility as citizens is to address the inequalities and injustices that linger, and we must secure our birthright freedoms for all people. As we mark the 40th year of National African American History Month, let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans, and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."    ~Barack Obama, January 29, 2016

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