Black History Month Spotlight
On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan, which Congress did with only one dissenting vote in the House. America’s declaration of war on Japan led both Japan and Germany to declare war on the U.S. America would engage in war yet again.
Throughout U.S. history Black Americans have served in the Military during almost all of America’s major wars including The American Revolution, The War of 1812, The Mexican War, the American Civil War, The Indian Wars, The Spanish/American War and World War I.
Although the American Military was more progressive than American society, it was still discriminatory – Blacks who either enlisted or were drafted were kept out of the Marines all together (up to World War I) and were only allowed to serve in a limited capacity in the Coast Guard and the Navy (again up to World War I).
When the U.S. became involved in World War II, Black soldiers would again enlist and be drafted into service. Still seen as second class citizens, Blacks soldiers would (for the most part) only be allowed to serve in a limited capacity. Many Black soldiers served as truck drivers, litter bearers, orderlies, cooks, Stevedores (dock workers) and infantry men.
As a result of pressure placed on Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow Blacks to take a more active role in the U.S. military, Black men were given the opportunity to become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corp. These individuals come to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen would be comprised of “pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance technicians, instructors and all other personnel needed to launch and keep planes fighting the enemy.” “The U.S. Army Air Corp chose the Tuskegee Institute as the location to train pilots, and all support personnel, because of the Institutes commitment to aeronautical studies and the institutions uncanny ability to train those flying and servicing planes.”
Those who were members of the “Tuskegee Airmen would overcome segregation, prejudice and racism and distinguish themselves as one of the premier and most respected fighter groups of W.W.II.” According to the National Park Service webpage, the “Tuskegee Airmen” (located at http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/tuskegee/airoverview.htm), “members of this elite group proved that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft and do it with distinction. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women (on the ground) who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military."
Sources used in this summary include:
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