February is Black History Month — a time when we remember and celebrate the achievements of African Americans in this great land of ours. Black History Month succeeded Black History Week, which began in 1926. Thanks to college students and the awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, the event grew until President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as Black History Month in 1976. Every U.S. President since has done the same. The theme for this year’s month is African Americans in Times of War, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and the contributions made by African Americans during wartime.
African Americans, most of them brought to this land as slaves, fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War. While the British outlawed slavery in 1772, the colonies would not do the same for nearly a century.
Many consider Cripus Attucks, a black tax protester gunned down by the Red Coats during the Boston Massacre, as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War.
Black soldiers fought with the Patriots at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and African American soldiers joined local militias and some were even members of the Sons of Liberty. Believe it or not, most Black soldiers fought for the Patriots in integrated units. Surprisingly, Congress passed a law in 1792 barring Blacks from the military.
During the Civil War, Blacks made up about 10 percent of the Union Army. After President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Blacks joined the Union Army in earnest with the promise of freedom. Sixteen Black soldiers earned the Medal of Honor.
During World War I, many Black units adopted the name given to Black cavalry troops by the Indians — Buffalo Soldiers. The military remained segregated for the most part. Lieutenant Aaron R. Fisher was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism. The French, however, asked for Black soldiers, and many were awarded for their distinguished service during the war.
Nearly one million Blacks served in World War II including the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black pilots trained by the U.S. Air Force.
President Harry Truman ordered the integration of the military in 1948, although many Black units remained during the Korean War.
By the time of the Vietnam War, the military was fully integrated, and Blacks made up about 10 percent of the forces there. Today, Blacks make up about 13 percent of the population, but about 20 percent of those serving in the military.
While this year’s celebration focuses on African American contributions during wartime, we should not forget Blacks have contributed significantly to each and every aspect of our lives. Their history is our history, too.
Here on the local scene, the Lassen College Foundation hosts a Black History Month celebration featuring Louis Price, former lead singer with both The Temptations and The Drifters, jazz saxophonist Kenney Polson, comedian Feather Da’Wyz and an appearance by the Susanville Choral Society at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Lassen Community College Sports Complex. Proceeds benefit the foundation’s efforts to provide an LCC scholarship for every Lassen County high school graduate.