John R. Hawkins III
As I reflect on Black History Month 2016 many things come to mind. Many, unfortunately get stuck on the fact that the official Black History month happens to be the shortest month of the year; implying some sort of national conspiracy.
However, Negro History Week, as it was originally called, was created in Feb. of 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and in the 1960’s became Black History Month. It has its roots in Woodson’s interest in the at the time natural ties to the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. With our contributions being so ignored or under-recorded then and now, such a period serves a purpose. For example, recognizing the vast contributions in the past and as well as the present of Blacks in the military.
While the contributions are far too vast to list them all, here is a brief chronological overview.
Since the American Revolution, free and slave Blacks served in the thousands from all 13 original colonies in the Continental Army and militias. While there is relatively broad knowledge of Chrispus Attucks being the first documented shooting death of the Revolutionary War in Boston in 1770, few realize that thousands of Blacks served in that war.
Blacks, free and slave, went on to fight with distinction in the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, the Civil War and the Indian Campaigns. During the Civil War Sergeant William Harvey Carney of the famed 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry became the first Black recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at Ft. Wagner, which was later depicted in the movie “Courage.” It is important to note that despite the bravery and valor of the 54th, the All Black Regiment originally received half the pay of their White counter-parts.
After Emancipation, Blacks continued to fight for the U.S. with valor in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam War and all other conflicts to the present day war against terrorism. Segregated units fought with distinction such as the 369th “Harlem Hell Fighters”, and the Tuskegee Airmen, never losing an escorted bomber to enemy aircraft in over 200 missions, being awarded 2 Soldier Medals, Purple Hearts, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and over 700 Air Medals.
It was during the time of World War I and II and forward that great achievers began to publicly surface such as Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, the first Black General and General Daniel “Chappy” James Jr., first Black 4 star General who was a Korean War and Viet Nam War hero.
In the 1960s and forward the number of African Americans in colleges and universities produced a ground swell of African American generals and admirals. ROTC scholarships and Service Academy free educations produced the likes of General Colin Powell, first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and numerous 4 star generals and admirals such as Larry Ellis, Johnny Wilson, Lester Lyles, Kip Ward, Lloyd Alston, Dennis Via, Vincent Brooks, Cecil D. Haney and Michelle Howard who is currently a 4 star Admiral, Vice Chief of Naval Operations and the first Black female 4 star in any Service. Further, Black history in the military continues today, as DC’s own Lt. Gen. Nadja West was recently named the first Black female Surgeon General of the Army.
This is important because all Americans must know the undying dedication to the security of this nation provided by Blacks throughout American history. Young Black students must know of this proud history as a personification of ownership in this Nation.
If there is no reference from which to believe greatness is attainable, there will be no desire to prepare and seek it.
Maj Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was Dir., Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that Deputy Chief Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.