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Feature   Know Your Military

First Military Women of Color Exhibit Opens at Women's War Memorial

March 12, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

"The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America's Servicewomen" exhibit has made its debut at the Military Women's Memorial on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery to highlight the contributions of military women of color who have served in the U.S. military throughout American history.

Visitors tour a museum exhibit.
Exhibit Tour
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López tours "The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen" exhibit opening at the Military Women's Memorial, Arlington, Va., March 4, 2021.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210304-D-BN624-0127

The new exhibit was virtually unveiled March 4 in a partnership between the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation and Comcast NBCUniversal, according to a memorial press release. The exhibit tells the stories of women of color who served in the military and it also includes three components with Kindergarten through 12th-grade educational programming, a speakers' forum and a digital exhibit.

"While the memorial has always worked hard to tell the stories of all service women, we are eager to add a voice to the current discussion of race, and to share the extraordinary and enduring contributions of service women of color," said Phyllis Wilson, president of the Women in Military Service For America Memorial Foundation at the exhibit's opening. 

"In many cases [these were] contributions that have been forgotten, ignored or diminished in our textbooks," she noted.

I found these women and many others have been forces within the trajectory of [U.S.] history, women's history and military history. I have found that diversity is our strength..."
Britta Granrud, Memorial Curator

The exhibit spotlights more than 30 service women of color who have blazed trails, broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings, Wilson explained.

The women of color who dared to lean in and accomplish their missions created a better U.S. military and a better nation, she emphasized.

A display at a museum.
Diversity Exhibit
"The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen" exhibit at the Military Women's Memorial, Arlington, Va., March 4, 2021. The new exhibit is open to the public at the memorial.
Photo By: Courtesy of Military Women’s Memorial
VIRIN: 210312-D-ZZ999-001

The public narrative regarding racial injustice last summer presented the memorial with an opportunity to develop an exhibit about all women of color, and to highlight their service, said memorial curator Britta Granrud. 

In designing the exhibit, the curator said she wanted the women to tell their stories in their words. The curator was able to capture those words from women who participated in the exhibit and from the memorial's largest repository of women's military stories in existence, in addition to artifacts and other tangible evidence of their service, she pointed out.

"I found that women of color have faced barriers of gender, race and traditional cultural values in pursuit of a right to serve," Granrud said. "I found that in their persistent efforts … overcoming discrimination has allowed them to thrive and see their roles expand across all sectors. I found these women and many others have been forces within the trajectory of [U.S.] history, women's history and military history. I have found that diversity is our strength; … [and] our life experiences and the communities from which we come make us stronger and make us better."

The common denominator of these women of color who served their country is that they are leaders, said retired Army command sergeant major Michelle Jones, a participant in the exhibit and a combat veteran who served 25 years in the Army. Jones was the ninth command sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserve and the first woman to serve in that position.

A wide shot of a large memorial building.
Women's Memorial
The exterior of the Military Women’s Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., March 12, 2021.
Photo By: Courtesy of Military Women’s Memorial
VIRIN: 210311-D-ZZ999-001

The women of color who served gave us — and continue to give us — a roadmap of selfless service, she said. 

Jones said the women of color who served carry the five "Ls" of leadership: loyalty, to put the needs of the nation before their own; leadership, to lead the nation's greatest assets in its service members; liberty, to enforce our freedoms and our personal freedoms; life, to ensure our way of life is never compromised, and legacy, about which Jones said, "I say and believe your individual accomplishments and achievements are a testament to what you did in your life. But the legacy you leave is a testament to how you lived your life and the lives that you touched. A legacy never dies. It goes on exponentially."

Her sisters-in-arms continue to exhibit characteristics that carry them through their careers, their lives, their struggles and their disappointments, Jones noted. 

The memorial and exhibit hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m., Sundays. For more information, call the memorial at (703) 533-1155.