H. Jones, Army News Service
D.C. ó Each February, communities across the nation celebrate
African-American History Month, using this annual observance as an
opportunity to honor the contributions of African-Americans and create
greater awareness regarding the richness of African-American culture.
year, the nation celebrates the election of President Barack H. Obama,
the countryís first African-American president and
commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This significant first for the
nation was built on the foundation of many great African-American
leaders throughout history.
have a long and distinguished history of service in defense of the
nation, and in particular, in service to the U.S. Army.
while President Obama is the most recent and perhaps the most
celebrated "first" for African-Americans, listed below are a
few notable "firsts" for African-Americans who answered
their nationís call to duty in the Army.
Oct. 25, 1940, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first African-American
to serve as a general officer in the U.S. Army. He entered the
military service on July 18, 1898 during the war with Spain as a
temporary first lieutenant of the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry. He was
mustered out on March 6, 1899 and on June 18, 1899, he enlisted as a
private in Troop I, 9th Cavalry, of the regular Army. He then served
as a corporal and squadron sergeant major, and on Feb. 2, 1901, he was
commissioned a second lieutenant of Cavalry in the regular Army.
military decorations included the Bronze Star Medal and the
Distinguished Service Medal.
following the Civil War, William Cathey enlisted in the U.S. Regular
Army in St. Louis, Mo. Cathey, intending to serve three years with the
38th U.S. Infantry, was described by the recruiting officer as 5í9"
with black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion. The cursory
examination by an Army physician missed the fact that William was
actually Cathay William, an African-American woman.
served from Nov. 15, 1866 until her discharge with a surgeonís
certificate of disability on Oct. 14, 1868. Despite numerous and often
lengthy hospital stays during her service, her sex was not revealed
until June 1891, when she applied for an invalid pension and disclosed
her true identify.
did not receive the pension, not because she was a woman, but because
her disabilities were not service-related. She has been noted in
military history journals as the only documented female Buffalo
Soldier and as the only documented African-American woman who served
in the U.S. Army prior to the 1948 law that officially allowed women
to join the Army.
West Point graduate
1877, Henry O. Flipper became the first African-American to graduate
from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. His
assignment in July 1877 to the 10th U.S. Cavalry, one of two Black
cavalry regiments organized after the Civil War, was the realization
of a personal dream. Unfortunately, his dream was short-lived as he
was wrongfully court-martialed and dishonorably discharged.
to the 10th Cavalry over Buffalo Soldiers, Lt. Flipper served at Forts
Elliott, Concho, Quitman, Sill, and Davis, and he fought twice at
Eagle Springs, Texas, during the Victorio campaign against the Apache
Indians in 1880. In 1881, while stationed at Fort Davis, Texas, he was
framed by white officers and charged with embezzlement. At his
court-martial he was found not guilty of embezzlement, but guilty of
"conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." He was
dishonorably discharged, and for the rest of his life he fought to
restore his good name.
his death in 1940, his descendants continued advocating to have his
dishonorable discharge overturned, and in 1976, with the recognition
of his mistreatment, he was finally granted an honorable discharge by
the Department of the Army.
bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point in the same year. In 1999
President Bill Clinton granted him a full pardon. West Point now gives
an award in his honor to the graduating senior who has displayed
"the highest qualities of leadership, self-discipline, and
perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties while a cadet."
1947, Roscoe Robinson Jr. attended St. Louis University for only a
year before he transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He graduated with a degree in military engineering in 1951. During the
next 34 years, he would become a distinguished combat commander and
the first African-American to become a four-star general.
graduating he served in the Korean War in 1952 as a platoon leader and
rifle company commander. For his actions he received the Bronze Star.
1967 he served as battalion commander in Vietnam. For his achievements
there he received the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross,
11 Air Medals, and two Silver Stars.
Hazel Johnson, an operating room nurse who graduated from the Harlem
Hospital School of Nursing, joined the Army in 1955, she thought it
would be an opportunity that would allow her to explore the world and
hone her nursing skills. She had no idea she would become a part of
military history ó which she did in 1979 when she became the first
African-American female general officer and the first African-American
appointed as chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
had much to do with Johnsonís success in the military as she entered
the Army shortly after President Harry Truman banned segregation and
discrimination in the armed services. As chief of the Army Nurse
Corps, Gen. Johnson commanded 7,000 male and female nurses.
learn more about the contributions of African-Americans who have
served, and continue to serve the nation proudly, visit: http://www.army.mil/africanamericans/main_content.html.
(See related story)