Col. Edna W. Cummings (Ret. (Courtesy of AFRO Archive)

Col. Edna W. Cummings (Ret.),
Special to the AFRO

Approximately one million African-American men and women served at home and abroad during World War II. Fighting segregation within the ranks and in society, the likes of Doris “Dorie” Miller, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines, the 761st Tank Battalion, the Red Ball Express, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion and others fought to prove their patriotism and preserve our democracy. 

Serving with valor and distinction, African American servicemembers dispelled the pseudoscience about competence and abilities based on the color of their skin. But post war, these veterans returned to a society that felt empowered to discriminate against Black veterans. Scores of heinous acts, benefits denial and access to veteran’s resources, demonstrated the public disrespect for their military service.

Then came Executive Orders 9981 and 9980, which desegregated the Armed Forces and the federal workforce on July 26, 1948. These laws were first steps toward providing all Americans the freedom to serve. Although barriers to service are eroding, and ethnic diversity has increased almost three-fold, the lowest percentage of racial representation is among high-ranking officers in all service branches. Ongoing education about diversity, equity, and inclusion is needed to ensure that we find, nurture and maintain talent. Alongside the fight to preserve democracy and freedom, our nation’s ongoing quest to end discrimination continues.

The AFRO has intentionally reported on Black soldiers and their achievements for our nation over the last century. In honor of the 75th anniversary of the desegregation of armed forces in the United States, the AFRO sends a salute to all those who have paved the way for Black people serving in the military.