Ron E. Armstead


When a man puts his life at the disposal of the nation, that man has earned the rights of a citizen. So the black man owes it to himself and to his advancement to heed the call of war. That is what Frederick Douglass thought, and he gave voice to that opinion in his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881): “I … urged every man who could to enlist to get an eagle on his button, a musket on his shoulder, and the star-spangled banner over his hand.” History has proven him wrong. black men and black women contributed to every war that America waged through the twentieth century, but at the conclusion of military service the full rights of citizenship were not on offer until very late in that period.

So for more than a century African-American soldiers and veterans fought for civil rights. They fought for the Colored Soldiers and Sailors League and with the Niagara Movement, NAACP, and other organizations formed later during the civil rights movement. In the words of James Monroe Trotter, a Civil War veteran and father of William Monroe Trotter, they fought for both “manhood and equality,” from the Civil War and Reconstruction Period to World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The favorite song of the black combat soldiers in Vietnam, for instance, was Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”


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