And while much of that has to do with Black soldiers‘ time enlisted in the armed forces, the way that Black veterans have largely been treated has been the subject of much scrutiny since Crispus Attucks became the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War.
During the War of 1812, Black soldiers helped defeat the British in New Orleans. By the end of the Civil War, 10 percent of the union forces were Black. The 54th regiment, which was an all-Black fighting unit, was immortalized in the movie “Glory” and fought a number of important battles, eventually losing more than half of its troops. Two of Frederick Douglass’ sons also fought in the Civil War and Harriet Tubman severed as a scout for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
During World War I, Black soldiers were given full citizenship, although they still fought in segregated units. Many credit Black soldiers for bringing jazz music to Europe and France.
In World War II, Black soldiers had an increased presence. The NAACP pushed for the War Department to form the all-Black 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps, otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the only U.S. unit to ever sink a German destroyer. Like the 54th Regiment, the Tuskegee Airmen were immortalized in a movie of the same name.
The Marines first opened themselves to Black volunteers in 1942. To the dismay of the Marines, only 63 African Americans joined.
Lieutenant Colonel Campbell C. Johnson, a Black officer, decided that he would actively recruit Black Marines. Due to his efforts, African Americans began joining the Marines at a rate of more than 1,000 a month in 1943.
Despite the opposition to the Vietnam war from Black leaders and athletes like Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali, many Black soldiers both volunteered and were drafted to fight in the Vietnam war. Colin Powell joined the ROTC at City College and would go on to be a captain in Vietnam, later becoming a major. Powell would go on to be National Security Adviser (1987–1989), Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Forces Command (1989), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993) and eventually the Secretary of State for President George W. Bush in 2001.
While that Black history in the American military is undeniable, so is what the Equal Justice Initiative reminded readers was how Black soldiers returning home “were more likely to face discrimination, disrespect, violence, and even death.” According to the New Yorker, much of that treatment was blamed on white people who “speculated that, while stationed in Europe, black soldiers had enjoyed wartime liaisons with white French women, increasing their lust—which, in the white imagination, was already dangerously high—for sex with white American women.”
On top of that, research from the Department of Veterans Affairs found that “African-American and Hispanic Veterans said they had more negative experiences in obtaining access to health care than whites.”
With that rich history in mind, scroll down to see dozens of vintage images of Black soldiers fighting foreign wars for the United States Of America.
1. Black Pilots Sharing Stories
Source:GettyPilots from the all-black fighter squadron share stories after a raid. The pilots are (from left to right): Lt. Herbert Clark, Lt. Robert Roberts, Lt. Willie Fuller, Lt. William Campbell, Lt. Herbert Carter, and Lt. Erwin B. Lawrence. All the pilots attended Tuskegee University.
2. Eleanor Roosevelt Awarding the Soldier’s Medal
Source:GettyFirst Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pins the Soldier’s Medal on Private Sam Morris at a ceremony in Seattle in April 1943. Morris saved the lives of several people trapped in a burning packing plant when a bomber crashed into the building.
3. Black Troops Working Howitzer
Source:GettyNegro troops of a field artillery battery emplace a 155MM Howitzer in France during World War II in 1944. They were following the advance of the infantry and were setting up this new position.
4. Group Watching Parade Of Black Infantry
Source:GettyGroup watching the parade of the 369th Colored Infantry — also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters — in New York City in 1919.
5. Soldier Laughing During Drill
Source:GettyA soldier is shown laughing during a gas mask drill in World War I.
6. Our Colored Heroes World War I Poster
7. Troops Seated, Reading Letter
Source:GettyMembers of a 105-mm gun battery on the Fifth Army front in Italy catch up on the mail from home between spurts of action. Left to right are Romie Hall, Kingston, N.C., Pvt. John Hogue, Shelby, N.C, who is sharing his letter with his buddies, and Copr. William Bennett, Camden, N.J. Nov. 14, 1944.
8. Black Troops In Human Chain Recover Body
Source:GettyMembers of the all-Black 92nd division of the U. S. Fifth Army found the bullet-riddled body of a buddy floating in this stream on Nov. 14, 1944, in Italy. To recover the body and give it a proper burial, they formed this human chain up the steep bank.
9. Tuskegee Airmen Waving on Gangway
Source:GettySeven New York and New Jersey servicemen from the 16-member 99th Pursuit Squadron arrive at La Guardia Airport aboard a Trans-Atlantic ATC plane. The Squadron was the first all African American combat unit activated as a part of the 15th Air Force in Italy. (L-R) Sgt. Leon W. Coles, John H. Turner, Sgt. Robert T. Howard, Leonard R. Brewer, Sgt. Charles Davis, Sgt. Charles D. Hensley, and Sgt. Julius C. Lovett.
10. American Soldiers Crossing a River
Source:GettyAmerican soldiers cross a river on the island of Bougainville carrying artillery shells on their way back to the front.
11. African American Soldiers on Anti-Aircraft Battery
Source:GettyAn American anti-aircraft battery is manned entirely by Negro soldiers near the front lines above Venafar, Italy, on Jan. 9, 1944. Front row, left to right, Pvt. George H. Renick of Philadelphia, PA, Pvt. Walter West of Detroit, MI (rear) Sgt. Edweard Kemp, Jr. of Knoxville, TN, Pvt. Archie Jenkins of Greenville, MS and Pvt. Howard McKenney of Louisville, KY.
12. African American Soldier Shooting at Enemy
Source:GettyOne of the Negro soldiers of the American 93rd Division fires from a prone position in the South Pacific on July 14, 1944. This is the first time that “colored” ground troops were used in combat in this theater.
13. Black Woman Being Inducted Into Wave
Source:GettyMiss Jane Freeman, 22, of Roxbury, MA, is taking the oath as a Navy WAVE at district headquarters in Boston. She is being sworn in by Captain D. Causey, USN (retired) director of the Office of Naval Officer Procurement. Miss Freeman is the first African Americans enlisted WAVE in the New England area to be inducted.
14. Heroic Black Sailors Posing with Gun
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 7/28/1945- Six Negro steward’s mates who received Bronze Stars for heroism are pictured on the U.S.S. Intrepid, grouped about the gun which they manned until a Japanese ‘Kamikaze’ suicide dive bomber ploughed into their position. Their courage and skill were cited as being in keeping with the Navy’s highest traditions. The men are: Johnell Copeland ,19, Que Gant, 22, James Eddie Dockery, 38, Alonzo Alexander Swann, Jr.,19, and Eli Benjamin, 20.
15. Troops Playing Cards on Ship
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 8/3/1942-ATLANTIC CONVOY- Somewhere on the Atlantic… Negro troops en route to the British Isles have plenty of time on their hands and these few lads choose to pass it in a game of chance. The third on the right seems to be debating whether or nor to take another card. We hope he filled his straight.
16. Two Soldiers Washing Clothes
Source:GettyThe photographer surprised these two Fifth Avenue GIs, James L. Stintson of New York and Raymond C. Jones, cooperating on a laundry project on the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead. The boys take advantage of a sunny day to wash and dry their spare duds.
17. African Am Trooper @ Parachute Training
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 2/24/1944-Fort Benning, GA- In training as to how to descend upon the enemy are these Negro paratroopers at Fort Benning. Landing from the mock tower in the ‘B’ stage of paratroop training is Corporal Elijah H. Wesby of Philadelphia. Sergeant Roger S. Walden of Detroit lends an assisting hand.
18. Two Black Soldiers Seated W/Rifles
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 3/1944-Italy: Pvt. Jackson Brown of Dele, SC, and Pvt. Roy Williams of Savannah, GA, sit and enjoy the sunshine at the entrance to an air raid shelter of the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead. They are members of the Fifth Arvy forces holding the bulge against Nazi onslaughts.
19. Soldiers Seated in Camp
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 4/16/1944-Italy: Relaxed in their cave quarters, refuge against enemy shells, at the Anzio beachhead in Italy are Pfc. George H. Todd, Great Neck, NY, and Pvt. Edward Prince, Buffalo, NY, Negro soldiers attached to the U.S. Fifth Army. Pvt. Prince proudly shows a photo of his wife.
20. Harry Moore in Parade
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 4/5/1919-Boston, MA – Sergeant Harry Moore of the 372nd Colored Infantry riding in the parade of the regiment in Boston. The sergeant has been in the army for thirty-one years and has won several medals for valor. He served with the regiment in France.
21. Soldiers Marching with Machine Gun Sign
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 1919-Boston, MA- Color bearers of 372nd Colored infantry in parade at Boston, MA. Undated WWI photograph depicting African American soliers marching holding a ‘machine gun’ sign.
22. Soldiers Group During WWII
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 1942-African American soldiers at Normandy fire. Photo depicts a group of soldiers standing full length.
23. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. in Cockpit
Source:GettyCaptain Benjamin O. Davis in the cockpit of a training aircraft in 1942. The following year he organized the 332nd Fighter Group, the ‘Tuskegee Airmen’. Davis eventually was promoted to General, the first African American Air Force general. His father was the first black general in the U.S. Army.
24. African American Soldiers Cutting Wood During World War II
Source:GettyAfrican American soldiers on a wood cutting expedition in the winter during World War II.
25. The Arrival Of 369Th Regiment Nyc
Source:Getty(Original Caption) The arrival of the 369th Black infantry regiment in New York after World War I. Undated photograph.
26. African American Troops Marching Up Fifth Avenue
Source:Getty(Original Caption) New York, NY: World War I: The all black 15th regiment parading up Fifth Avenue, New York City, en route to an Army camp in New York State. Undated photograph.
27. World War I African American Soldiers
Source:Getty(Original Caption) World War I: Sergeants of the 369th, Negro Regiment: J. H. Jones, R, Flower, C. E. Davis, J. White, J. H. Carmen, S. C. Farrell, B. Lucas, H. L. Printer, E. N. Barrington. (Original Caption)
28. Black Military Engineers Line For Lunch
Source:Getty(Original Caption) Negro members of an engineer battalion in Algeria in line for noon hour mess, World War II, Undated photograph.
29. Cigarette Table At Dinner For Infantry
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 2/17/1919-New York, NY: Men from the 369th Colored Infantry are served chicken dinner at the 71st Regiment Armory after the parade.
30. Soldiers Seated and Read Letters
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 4/16/1944-Italy: Sgt. Charles Glasco, Westchester, PA (l) and Sgt. Audrey Barnes, Chicago, IL, read mail from home in their cave shelters on the Anzio beachhead in Italy. The cave shelters are a refuge against enemy shells.
31. African American Infantrymen with Dead SS Trooper
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 4/17/1945-Germany- Two Negro infantrymen with their captain, all of the 104th First Army Division, stand alert while the captain looks over the body of an SS trooper they killed as he ran across the field. Pictured (L to R) are PFC Donald Bess of Hot Springs, Arkansas; Captain Larry Wolfe of Staten Island, New York; and Private James D. Ferguson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
32. Soldiers Sharing Letter
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 3/1944-Italy: Greater love hath no man than that he share his mail from home with his buddy. Pfc. James Lang, of Carrolton, AL, and Jerome Taggart of Philadelphia are sharing a letter here on the beachhead below Rome. They are members of the Fifth Army forces holding the Anzio-Nettuno bulge.
33. Bible Class Army Ymca African Am Wwi
Source:Getty(Original Caption) Travis, TX- Bible Class, Army YMCA Building NO.1, Camp Travis, TX. African American Y Secretary teaching class of men from first group 165th Depot Brigade. Notice the upside down book in the front row middle near teacher. undated WWI photograph.
34. Black Troops Coming Ashore
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 5/2/1944-Dutch New Guinea: American Negro troops come ashore through the open bow doors of an LST, jammed up on the beach in the Hollandia area of the Dutch New Guinea Coast, during the invasion which caught the Japs off guard there. Three important Nip airfields are now in Allied hands in that sector.
35. Officer Receives Service Cross Honor
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 3/31/45-Detroit, Michigan: Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Bastion, commander of the Percy Jones General Hospital, pins the distinguished Service Cross on Capt. Charles Thomas, commander of a tan destroyer company in France, for extraordinary heroism in action. Capt. Thomas hails from Detroit where he was employed by the Ford Motor Company before the war. U.S. Signal Corps photo.
36. Bill Robinson In Military Uniform
Source:Getty(Original Caption) Bill Robinson, in World War I military uniform, strikes a dance pose on stage. Undated photograph.
37. Black Soldier Cleaning Rifle
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 8/3/1942-Somewhere on the Atlantic: This Negro rifleman one of a contingent en route to the British Isles, is shown cleaning his rifle on board ship. The cleanliness of this instrument of war may decide whether or not the owner lives a ripe old age or not.
38. World War Ii French Soldiers Give Candy
Source:Getty(Original Caption) World War II French soldiers fill the hands of American Negro soldiers with candy in Rouffach, France, after the closing of the Colmar pocket. Photograph 1945.
39. Black Pilots Return To U.S.
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 12/24/1944-New York: Homr on leave after flying with the 99th Fighter Squadron, fameed all Negro flying group, Captains, Charles B. Hall (Right) of Brazil, Ind., and Lemuel R. Custis, Hartford, CT., are devoting their furloughs to the sale of war bonds. Both Pilots have flown in the Mediterranean Theater, and Captain Hall has been awarded the distinguished Flying Cross. Through the two flyers The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has purchased $40,000 in war bonds during the Fifth War Loan Drive.
40. First All-Black Combat Unit
Source:GettyPersonnel from the 99th Pursuit Squadron, the first all-black combat unit, wave after arriving from Casablanca.
41. Tuskegee Airmen in Italy
Source:Getty(Original Caption) World War II; Negro troops in Italy.
42. African American Wacs
Source:GettyGroup of African American members of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) posing for a group photo in uniform during World War 2, 1940. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images).
43. Keep Us Flying! Buy War Bonds, WWII Tuskeegee Airman Poster
Source:GettyUS WWII bond poster showing portrait of African American pilot, member of Tuskeegee airmen in flight uniform. 1943 U.S. Treasury Poster (Photo by David Pollack/Corbis via Getty Images)
44. Pvt. Joe Louis Says Poster
Source:GettyPvt. Joe Louis Says Poster (Photo by David Pollack/Corbis via Getty Images)
45. Benjamin O. Davis Next to P-47 Thunderbolt
Source:GettyBenjamin O. Davis, commander of the 332nd Fighter Group, stands next to a Republic P-47 fighter. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
46. Segregated Black Marines on Iwo Jima
Source:GettySegregated Black Marines on Iwo Jima (Photo by © Joseph Schwartz/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
47. Workers On Lunch Break
Source:GettyBlack and white photograph of a group of African-American workers for an Emergency Defense Office, a United States federal emergency war agency set up to coordinate state and federal measures for protection of civilians in case of war emergency, housing construction job, during lunch break, standing around and sitting on large pipes, Washington, DC, December, 1941. From the New York Public Library. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
48. African-American soldiers in WWI
Source:GettyAfrican-American soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) regiment, who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action in WWI. Unknown photographer, 1919, silver print. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)
49. 369Th Colored Infantry On Parade
Source:Getty(Original Caption) 2/1919-New York, NY: 369th Colored Infantry parade down 5th Avenue. Regiment colors on display passing review stand.
50. African American Sailor
Source:GettyPortrait of an African American man smiling and standing in front of a wooden platform, he is a member of the United States Navy in World War 1 and is wearing his full uniform, his arms are bent and behind his back, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
51. African American Soldiers
Source:GettyCaucasian and African-American soldiers aboard a United States Navy vessel during World War 1, 1918. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
52. Us Soldiers Testing Gas Masks
Source:GettyWorld 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).
53. African American Soldier
Source:GettyAfrican 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).
54. African American Wwi Soldiers
Source:GettyAfrican 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).
55. World War I 10th Cavalry
Source:GettyFull 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 wit some men holding small bouquets of flowers, neutral and happy facial expressions, 1917. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
56. 24th Us Infantry Passing Through Ny
Source:Getty24th 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).
57. African American Soldiers
Source:GettyAfrican American soldiers with neutral expressions, some of whom carry weaponry, stand in rows outdoors, 1915. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
58. African American Sailor
Source:GettyThree-quarters length portrait of an African American World War I US Navy sailor, seated, wearing uniform, neutral facial expression, 1920. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
59. WW1 African American Soldier
Source:GettyHalf portrait of an African American World War I soldier, wearing a double-breasted jacket and helmet, neutral facial expression, 1920. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
60. Parade of Vietnam Veterans
Source:GettyThis was the parade they never had: ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, as their fathers had after WWII and earlier. Vietnam veterans march down Constitution Avenue toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which would be dedicated later that day. The South Carolina dedication marches toward the camera. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
61. African-American Soldiers at London Dance Hall
Source:GettyAfrican-American soldiers and local girls dance to swing music at Bouillabaisse on New Compton Street, one of just a few London nightclubs that admitted colored people. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
62. U.S. Troops in England
Source:GettyAfrican American U.S. soldiers listen to a presentation at their posting in England midway through World War II. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
63. Playing Piano
Source:GettySergeant Franklin Williams singing with his sister, Sarah, his girlfriend Ellen Hardin, and his brother, Thomas, (l to r) while his sister Annetta plays piano. Baltimore, Maryland, May 1942. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
64. Two Soldiers
Source:GettyTwo Negro soldiers in Columbus, Ohio. December 1940. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
65. Rolling Field Equipment
Source:GettySergeant Franklin Williams rolling field equipment in the barracks. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, March 1942. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
66. Soldiers in Jeep
Source:GettyNegro soldiers stationed at Fort Harrison, Helena, Montana. March 1942. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)