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Timeline / Factoids
March 5, 1770: Crispus Attucks is shot and killed while confronting British troops during the Boston Massacre.
June 17, 1775: Peter Salem fights valiantly alongside other American colonists against British forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill outside Boston.

It’s estimated that 5,000 African Americans fought on the patriot side against the British during the American Revolutionary War, fought 1775-1783.

About 180,000 African Americans wore Union blue and earned praise for their military skill during the American Civil War, fought 1861-1865. Twenty-five African Americans received the Medal of Honor for bravery during the war.
 July 17, 1863: Union soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Regiment achieved military respect by routing a Confederate force after two hours of hard fighting at Honey Springs in present-day Oklahoma.
Sept. 29, 1864: African American troops fighting for the Union distinguished themselves again at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, Va. Fourteen African Americans received the Medal of Honor for their heroism at that engagement.
July 28, 1866: The U.S. Congress passes legislation creating the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments for service on the American frontier. The units were comprised of African American enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers under the command of mostly white commissioned officers. The African American cavalrymen gained the respect of the Indians they fought on the plains and in the southwest. The Indians called the African American cavalrymen “Buffalo Soldiers” for their toughness and bravery.

During the course of the Indian Wars fought from 1866 to the early 1890s, thirteen enlisted men and six officers from the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments and two African American infantry units earned the Medal of Honor.
July 1, 1898: During the Spanish American War, African American soldiers with the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments fought alongside Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt and his volunteer unit of “Rough Riders,” and defeated Spanish troops at the Battles of Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights, Cuba.

Five African American soldiers earned Medals of Honor for their heroism during the Spanish American War of 1898.

African American troops eagerly volunteered for military service and served with distinction following America’s entry into World War I in April 1917. By the war’s end in November 11, 1918, more than 350,000 African Americans has served with the American Expeditionary Force on the western front in Europe.
Sept. 28, 1918: African American soldier Cpl. Freddie Stowers continued to lead his men during an attack on German trenches despite several wounds. The enemy positions were ultimately taken by the Americans, but Stowers died from his injuries. A paperwork snafu delayed his receipt of the Medal of Honor, which he obtained posthumously 73 years after the war. Stowers became the only African American to receive the MOH for military service during World War I.
Aug. 1, 1941: Benjamin O. Davis Sr. is promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first African American general officer in the regular Army and the U.S. armed forces.
Dec. 7, 1941: Navy Ship’s Cook 3rd Class Dorie Miller shoots down four Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and earns the Navy Cross.
March 7, 1942: The first group of African Americans to graduate from military flight school at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Ala., was inducted into the Army Air Corps.
Aug.-Nov. 1944: Thousands of African American truck drivers for the “Red Ball Express” risk life and limb to deliver desperately needed fuel, food and ammunition to Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army as it pushed German forces eastward out of France during World War II.

More than 1 million African Americans served in the U.S. armed forces during America’s participation in World War II from 1941-1945.
Oct. 29, 1947: President Harry S. Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights’ landmark report, titled, “To Secure These Rights,” was issued. It condemned racial segregation wherever it existed and specifically criticized the practice of segregation in the U.S. armed forces. The report recommended legislation and administrative action “to end immediately all discrimination and segregation based on race, color, creed or national origin” in all branches of the U.S. military.
July 26, 1948: President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981. It states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the president that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” The order also established a presidential committee on equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed services.

More than 600,000 African Americans served in the armed forces during the Korean War (1950-53). Two African American Army sergeants, Cornelius H. Charlton and William Thompson, earned the Medal of Honor during the conflict.

By the end of 1954, the last all-African American U.S. military unit had been disbanded, while African American enlistment in the U.S. military grew.
1954: Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. becomes the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force.

During the Vietnam War (1962-1975) African Americans continued to join the armed forces in large numbers. Many volunteered to join the prestigious and high-risk airborne and air mobile helicopter combat units. There were 20 African American Medal of Honor recipients during the Vietnam War.
July 1, 1973: The United States ends military conscription and adopts an all-volunteer military. African Americans made up made up about 17 percent of the military’s enlisted force in 1973. By the early 1980s, African Americans made up nearly 24 percent of the enlisted force.
Sept. 1, 1975: Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James becomes the first four-star African American general in the U.S. armed forces.
Oct. 1, 1989: Army Gen. Colin L. Powell becomes chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the most-senior African American military officer in U.S. history. During his tenure as chairman Powell managed military participation in the Gulf War (1990-91). He served as JCS chairman until Sept. 30, 1993. Powell later served as Secretary of State in President George W. Bush’s administration.
 
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