The United States military is today viewed by many as a great bastion of upward mobility for blacks and other minorities, but it has not always been receptive to black soldiers. Despite a sometimes hostile reception in official quarters, blacks have served their country with honor and bravery since the country’s earliest days. Here are some notable black military heroes from throughout American history. You can learn more about these and hundreds of other famous black Americans in Encarta Reference Library, which includes Encarta Africana Third Edition.
Paul Cuffe helped supply the American colonies during the American Revolution, smuggling goods past British patrol ships. He went on to build a large whaling and shipping business, and some historians consider him the father of black nationalism in the United States.
Crispus Attucks led the 1770 uprising against British troops that resulted in the Boston Massacre. It is alleged that he cried out, “Don’t be afraid!” as he led the crowd of protesters against armed British soldiers.
Lemuel Haynes served as a minuteman during the American Revolution, fighting at the siege of Boston and at Fort Ticonderoga. After the war he studied Greek and Latin and became a Congregationalist minister.
Civil War and late 19th Century
Martin Robinson Delany recruited black soldiers and served as a field commander in the American Civil War. He earned the rank of major–the highest rank of any black soldier during the war. Delany also attended Harvard Medical School, bought and sold real estate, and wrote several books.
Henry O. Flipper became the first black to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, in 1877. He was later dishonorably discharged as a result of trumped-up charges, but the discharge was changed to honorable in 1976, and he was granted a full pardon in 1999.
Buffalo Soldiers served in Western settlements and forts in the mid- to late 19th century, often fighting against Native Americans. Twenty-three Buffalo Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery in combat.
Early 20th Century and World War I