In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln declared, “without the military help of the Black freedmen, the war against the south could not have been won”.
These words were befitting of a group of people who had endured the horrific and brutal institution of slavery in the United States, and had not ever been given the ability to serve their country as soldiers. Upon the issuance of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves from the North and runaway slaves from the South, stepped up to the plate by the thousands to join various United States Colored Troops regiments to fight for the Union against the Confederacy.
Although Black people have fought in military conflicts since colonial days, from Crispus Attucks’ fight with British soldiers, known as The Boston Massacre, in the late 1700s, to the War of 1812, where Black soldiers served in both integrated regiments and all-Black regiments, to the Civil War that led to their freedom, these Black soldiers served with tremendous bravery and distinction, and their impact literally changed the course of world and human history.
Approximately 40,000 Black soldiers gave their lives, fighting on behalf of this country.
In the award-winning movie, “Glory,” it depicts the many challenges that Black people endured, in that although the Civil War was being fought on their behalf, Black soldiers were still practically denied every opportunity and equitable resources that their White counterparts received. But in the true spirit of what has made Black people great and resilient, those Black soldiers refused to quit or cower to the historical pressure of White supremacy and racism. They endured and fought valiantly at Fort Wagner, SC, after charging a fort that was manned by some 1,000 Confederate soldiers.
In 1866, the U.S. Army reorganized, and Congress authorized the formation of several Black units, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, which were comprised of freed slaves and Black Civil War soldiers. Shortly after the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments: Six all Black peacetime units. Later, the four infantry regiments were merged into the 24th and 25th Infantries.
In 1917, the U.S. entered World War I, and thousands of Black soldiers stepped up to the plate to join the Army to serve their country in spite of still being disenfranchised and disrespected in their own country due to the color of their skin being Black. In World War II, the U.S. entered into that war with a declared focus to defeat fascism and defend worldwide freedom, however back home and in the military, Black people still got treated like foreigners in their own country, despite the bravery and valor that Black soldiers displayed while serving their country.
The Black Press began to get involved in highlighting the double-standard of the U.S. government and U.S. military, by writing about it religiously. By the end of the 1930s, Black newspapers had reached new heights of circulation and influence, and were tested during World War II, when the U.S. government tried to flex their muscles against the Black Press because of their nationwide and worldwide influence.
In the PBS film entitled, “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,” the narrator shared a story of how James Thompson, a Black cafeteria worker from Wichita, Kansas, suggested in a letter that he had written to one of the most influential Black newspapers at that time, The Pittsburgh Courier, that Black people should use the attention that was being placed on World War II being fought overseas, as an opportunity to bring attention to and demand change for Black people who were being disenfranchised and disrespected in their own backyard – here in America. In the film, a voiceover of Thompson states, “Should I sacrifice my life to live half-American? Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow? Let me colored Americans adopt the ‘Double V’ for the double victory. The first ‘V’ for victory over our enemies from without. The second ‘V’ for victory over our enemies from within.”
Thus, the “Double V” campaign was birthed, and it had a significant impact, almost immediately. The Black Press got behind the “Double V” campaign, and the “Double V” campaign was so effective, that in 1942, then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover presented Attorney General Francis Biddle with lengthy reports on what he saw as seditious activity by the Black Press, and literally requested that Biddle indict a group of publishers for treason. John Sengstacke, former publisher of the Chicago Defender, responded to a meeting request by Biddle, whereby he boldly told Biddle, “What are we supposed to do about it? These are facts and we aren’t gonna stop. That’s what it’s all about.” He declared, “That’s what the Black Press is all about, protecting Blacks in this country.”
As the war ended, the campaign for equality at home and abroad had pushed the combined circulation of Black newspapers for a record high of two million papers a week. But victory at home had yet to be won. The Black Press was a catalyst behind the success of the “Double V” campaign, and because of their efforts, the eventual success of the Civil Rights Movement and growth amongst Black soldiers in the military as a whole.
Here in November, the Forward Times chooses to continue telling the story of Black soldiers – past, present and future. During his tenure, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating November as Military Family Month, and we, at the Forward Times, honor our brave members of the military who took an oath to protect and defend our country, in spite of the many internal and external obstacles that they were faced with.
It is our hope that all of our faithful and loyal Forward Times readers, especially those who have served or have family members who have served, be honored because of the public service and sacrifices that have been made to make our country better.