The Civil Radical Battles of the Black American Soldier




The Civil Radical Wars

of the Black American Soldier.


African Americans have always been involved in United States military service since its inception despite official policies of racial segregation and discrimination. 


District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)

In 1948 President Harry S. Truman abolished discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.  By 1953, the final Black-only unit was abolished.


24th US Infantry passing through Watertown, New York; African-American World War I United States Soldiers carrying guns on shoulders, dressed in uniforms, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).


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After the declaration of war, more than 20,000 Blacks enlisted in the military, and the numbers increased when the Selective Service Act was enacted in May 1917. It was documented on July 5, 1917 that over 700,000 African Americans had registered for military service. 

African-American Troops, Portrait Near Tents and American Flag, circa 1917. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Many African Americans served under the Services of Supply section of the American Expeditionary Forces. This section comprised of stevedore, labor, and engineers service battalions and companies. The main function of these companies was to support and provide materials to other companies along the front. 


Full landscape shot of American soldiers in the 10th cavalry during World War 1, most African American, wearing uniforms, two rows of men, first-row kneeling with some men holding small bouquets of flowers, neutral and happy facial expressions, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

World War I: African-American soldier.
Source: Getty
World War I: African-American soldier seated behind a table, pencil in hand, with two hats on the table. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

True Sons Of Freedom

More than 350,000 African Americans served in segregated units during World War I, mostly as support troops. Several units saw action alongside French soldiers fighting against the Germans, and 171 African Americans were awarded the French Legion of Honor.


Caucasian and African-American soldiers aboard a United States Navy vessel during World War 1, 1918. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).  

A military poster promoting the work of stevedores at the St. Nazaire port of debarkation for American Expeditionary Forces during World War I in France in 1918. The African-American 369th Infantry Regiment arrived at St. Nazaire in December 1917 and performed labor duties before their onward integration and training for combat under French command in March 1918. Photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum and Memorial

Photo By: National World War I Museum and Memorial

Not that it mattered much to the soldiers; they still carried their nickname from New York, the Black Rattlers, and carried their regimental flag of the 15th New York Infantry everywhere they went in France.

World War 1 US Signal Corps members performing regular inspection and testing of gas masks; African American soldiers standing around higher ranked officers wearing gas masks, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

African American soldiers in World War I, four men, two seated, two standing, all wearing uniforms, facing the camera and using cooking equipment, neutral facial expressions, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).


African American soldier standing in front of a board of signs in Cheppy, France after the Battle of Verdun that took place during World War I, two military men are standing to the side, there is a crumbling building in the background, France, 1918. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

Negro troops in France. Part of the 15th Regiment Infantry, New York National Guard organized by Colonel Haywood, which has been under fire, ca. 1918. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

1st Army Post Band (Colored) — Souilly, France, 1918. | Location: Souilly, France. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

African American band members on the U.S.S. Philippine, during the voyage to the United States from Brest, France, 1919. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

Acclaimed Fighters

Their value was not lost on the French, and the regiment continued to fight alongside French forces, participating in the Aisne-Marne counteroffensive in the summer of 1918 alongside the French 162nd Infantry Division.

The Hell Fighters from Harlem had come into their own, in spite of their difficult start.

The regiment would go on to prove itself in combat operations throughout the rest of the war, receiving France’s highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre, for its unit actions alongside some 171 individual decorations for heroism.

During the World War I centennial observance, the New York National Guard and New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs will issue press releases noting key dates that affected New Yorkers, based on information and artifacts provided by the New York State Military Museum here.

More than 400,000 New Yorkers served in the military during World War I, more than any other state.

During the Civil War, Black troops were often assigned tough, dirty jobs like digging trenches. Black regiments were commonly issued inferior equipment and were sometimes given inadequate medical treatment in racially segregated hospitals. African-American troops were paid less than White soldiers.


Black soldiers faced systemic racial discrimination in the army and endured virulent hostility upon returning to their homes at the end of the war.

Members of the famous 369th Colored Infantry, formerly 15th N.Y. regulars, arrive in New York City. ‘Back to little old New York.’ 1919. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Between 370,000 and 400,000 African Americans served during World War I, Reft said. Most served as “stevedores, camp laborers, [and in] logistical support.” About 40,000 to 50,000 saw combat and about 770 were killed, he said.




The American Civil War is arguably the most gruesome and brutal war in United States history. Brothers fought against brothers, fathers fought against sons, and through this terrible conflict, people were finally granted freedom. Though the war started with the goal of restoring the “Union,” what history remembers is that Slavery was finally put to an end.

Everyone knows of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, and even the 14th and 15th Amendments, but few recognize another important part of the civil war, the brave African American men who gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom for their people.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment gave citizenship to all people born in the US.

The 15th Amendment gave Black Americans the right to vote.

Former slave became famed abolitionist. Called on blacks to serve in the Union Army as it would be the best path to citizenship

The former slave became a famed abolitionist. Called on Blacks to serve in the Union Army as it would be the best path to citizenship

Men of Color, To Arms!

Frederick Douglass

 March 21, 1863 
Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. Wikipedia
BornFebruary 1818, Talbot County, MD
DiedFebruary 20, 1895, Washington, D.C.    

“African American soldiers mustered out at Little Rock, Arkansas,” Waud, Alfred R., Artist. 1866. Photograph (LOC)

Erica Deeman for The New York Times. An object from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Enlisting in a Moral Fight

Carte de visite silver gelatin portrait of Sgt. Jacob Johns.

It is unclear whether Jacob Johns was enslaved, recently freed or a free man when he enlisted in the Union Army as a sergeant in the 19th United States Colored Troops Infantry, Company B. His unit fought in 11 battles, and 293 of its men were killed or died of disease, including Johns. When the war began in 1861, enslaved African-Americans seized their opportunity for freedom by crossing the Union Army lines in droves. The Confederate states tried to reclaim their human “property” but were denied by the Union, which cleverly declared the formerly enslaved community as contraband of war — captured enemy property. President Abraham Lincoln initially would not let black men join the military, anxious about how the public would receive integrated efforts. But as casualties increased and manpower thinned, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act in 1862, allowing Lincoln to “employ as many persons of African descent” as he needed, and thousands enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. Jacobs was one of nearly 180,000 black soldiers who served in the U.S.C.T. during the Civil War, a group that made up nearly one-tenth of all soldiers, fighting for the cause of freedom.



  1. In 2011, the US lifted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which restricted gay, lesbian, and bisexuals from openly serving in the military. For the first time in American history, people of every sexual orientation could serve openly and proudly.[1]
  2. Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” between 1993 and 2011, over 14,000 military men and women were discharged due to their sexual preference. Each discharge cost the US roughly $50,000.[2]
  3. There have been 150,000 people who are transgender who has served in the US armed forces.[3]
  4. People who are transgender are not issued the same freedom as Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual servicemembers because of discriminatory medical regulations that label them as mentally unstable.[4]
  5. In 2010, roughly 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military, and a little less than 14% of these were reported by survivors.[5]
  6. MST (Military Sexual Trauma) is the leading cause of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in women, while combat trauma is the leading cause for men.[6]
  7. Mental health issues like depression and stress that occur after sexual harassment make veterans highly subject to substance abuse and unemployment.[7]
  8. Only 3% of white officers report racial discrimination in the military, compared to 27% of both black and Hispanic officers.[8]
  9. 22% of white soldiers, 19% of Hispanic soldiers, and 24% of Black soldiers report experiencing racial discrimination within their current unit.[9]
  10. Black people could serve in the military as early as the 18th century, but it wasn’t until 1948 that the troops were racially integrated.[10]
  11. Genetic discrimination is banned in most American workplaces, but the military is allowed to discriminate based on congenital or hereditary conditions.[11]

  1. Keyes, Charley, and Tom Cohen. “End of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ brings relief, celebration.” CNN. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  2. Glantz, Aaron. “Veterans Battle to Regain ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Losses.” The New York Times, April 30, 2011. Web Accessed November 12, 2014. . ↩︎
  3. Broadus, Kyle Arielle Schwartz.“Lift the Transgender Military Ban Now.” National LGBTQ Task Force, 2014. Web Accessed November 12, 2014. . ↩︎
  4. The New York Times. “Discrimination in the Military.” The New York Times. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  5. “QUICK FACTS APRIL 2012.” Service Women’s Action Network. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  6. “QUICK FACTS APRIL 2012.” Service Women’s Action Network. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  7. “QUICK FACTS APRIL 2012.” Service Women’s Action Network. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  8. ABC News Network. “Racial Discrimination: An Army Survey.” ABC News. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  9. ABC News Network. “Racial Discrimination: An Army Survey.” ABC News. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  10. PBS. “Feature African-Americans In Combat.” PBS. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎
  11. Los Angeles Times. “U.S. military practices genetic discrimination in denying benefits.” Los Angeles Times. (accessed August 4, 2014). ↩︎