This month marks the 92nd year of the inception of what was then called Negro History Week. Launched in February 1926, Carter G. Woodson wanted to use knowledge about the black past, not only to instill pride in black American heritage, but he also sought to inspire blacks to strive for excellence, with learning about black history and culture becoming a key factor in the struggle for racial uplift.
The national theme for 2018 is African American in Times of War. With World War I having ended in 1918, one hundred years later in 2018, the Black History Month theme will appropriately highlight and honor “African Americans in Times of War.” In communities across America, public officials, businesses, schools, churches, and civic organizations will honor those brave men and women who served their country in the armed forces in every American war, from the Revolutionary War to that of the present “War against Terrorism.”
According to military historians, “since the beginning of the American military, it had been an uphill struggle for African Americans to prove their patriotism and devotion to the defense of the nation.” As far back as the American Revolution, many slaves were manumitted or set free as a result of their “meritorious service” during the war.
Hoping that their willingness to volunteer for military service would lead to better treatment, black Americans have answered the call to arms throughout the nation’s history. This was especially true one hundred years ago this year as many black Americans fought in Europe during World War I, on the side of democracy, viewing this as an opportunity that might help elevate the place and status of black Americans in their own country. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt. By all historical records, blacks did their full share as part of the American effort to “make the world safe for democracy” in the First World War.
Moreover, the black man felt “He has won at the same time by the manifestation of his courage, and his devotion and his loyalty, amore even chance in American life.” After the end of World War I in 1918, unfortunately, it would take another thirty years before the integration of the military with President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in July 1948. This marked an important milestone in American military history and race relations.
And, today, some seventy years after Truman’s Executive Order declaring “that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” the nation will honor and celebrate those brave men and women who served this country in the armed forces, defending the American ideals of freedom and democracy. Their fight to win “a more even chance in American life, as they struggled for full equality of the American promise set aside under the Constitution, has not been in vain.
Let’s salute and never forget.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.