Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Letter from Military History - January 2012

By Michael W. Robbins 
Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: November 04, 2011 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

Them and Us

The history of race relations in the American military is a long, complex tale—sometimes uplifting but frequently tragic. Full of sound and fury, it has signified much about our country and what we value. Its pattern often has been two steps forward, one step back.

Blacks have been part of America's armed forces for as long as we have had military organizations. The first Colonial casualty of the Revolution was a black man named Crispus Attucks, at the 1770 Boston Massacre. Black militiamen fought at Lexington and Bunker Hill, and blacks have fought in every war since. But only within living memory have they fought for this country on an equal footing with others in uniform. Part of the explanation for that glacial pace of change stems from this: Blacks were enslaved on this continent for 240 years; it has been just 149 years since President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves; and many more decades passed under Jim Crow laws and a social rigidity tantamount to slavery.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to Military History magazine

In that time the struggle for inclusiveness and equal treatment among and within our military services has been uneven. For years blacks served unremarkably on the crews of many an American warship, while the Marine Corps remained strictly whites-only. Later, the Navy dragged its feet even as the Air Force moved toward integrated service.

The long drive toward inclusiveness, illuminated by countless individual acts of personal, military and political courage, is inseparable from the struggle for equal rights in the larger society. But achieving fundamental fairness is arguably most important in the military, because serving in uniform is one act of citizenship that includes the potential of dying for the country.

It is obvious that racism—a negative generalization about other people that denies their individual identity and humanity—is a stubbornly entrenched attitude. One element of it certainly is fear of otherness. On the evidence it is terrifyingly easy to move from visible differences to suspicion to threat and, finally, to violence.

Americans are beneficiaries of some of the best political and social ideas ever conceived and practiced. As such, we are obligated by the very quality of those ideas to move toward their realization, "with liberty and justice for all." We have come a long way, moving from obsessions with otherness to a sense of our commonalities as citizens—moving from them to us. And in our military we have seen what can be done.

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy