Trailblazing Black Soldiers Set the Example

Trailblazing Black Soldiers Set the Example

Photo by: National Archives and Records Administration

African American soldiers have been trailblazers for equality since the Revolutionary War, and Black leaders from the past remain examples for troops today, a senior Army leader said.

“During the past year, the United States has faced significant social equality challenges. I believe now, we are at an inflection point,” where it is important to remember how diversity made and continues to make the Army the greatest one on Earth, said Lt. Gen. Jason Evans, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for installations, or G-9.

Black American troops have bravely fought for the nation since 1775, “making Black History Month a time of year when we can highlight the achievements and contributions of Black soldiers,” Evans said Feb. 19 at a virtual Black History Month event hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army. 

Throughout the Army’s 245-year history, Black men and women “have overcome tremendous barriers,” setting the conditions for future generations of Black Americans to serve in positions of increasing responsibility, he said. 

Many Black military leaders have “paved the way in the quest for equality in our Army and in the Department of Defense” and “proven to be an example for all to emulate,” Evans said.

He pointed to Benjamin Davis Sr., the first Black soldier to be promoted to general officer, as one such example. After joining the Army as a private, Davis rose to the rank of sergeant major, earned a commission and was promoted to brigadier general in 1940.

Davis’ son, Benjamin Davis Jr., began his career in the Army before going on to become the first Black Air Force general. The Army promoted the first Black woman to general officer in 1979 when Hazel Brown became the chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Three years later, in 1982, Gen. Roscoe Robinson was appointed as the first Black four-star general, Evans said.

Almost 50 years after Davis Sr.’s historic promotion, Gen. Colin Powell became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after having previously served as the first Black National Security Adviser.

“The aforementioned leaders have served as role models and inspirations for all Black Americans,” Evans said. 

The Army must embrace diversity “as a way to maximize individual talent, increase morale and enhance military effectiveness, regardless of race, creed, gender or color,” he said. “It is our diversity that makes us the greatest Army in the world, and it will greatly enable our ability to secure the future.”