African Americans in the US Armed Forces Term Paper

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African-Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces

This research paper proposes to discuss the importance of African-American soldiers in the United States military. It will do so from a decidedly comprehensive approach which highlights their contributions to the major martial endeavors the U.S. has undertaken since its inception. In examining the history of these soldiers within America, this paper proposes to also deconstruct the motives which galvanized African-American soldiers to enlist in the military. These motives will be contrasted with those of conventional European-Americans'. In order to properly provide the context for the examination of the influence of African-Americans in the U.S. military, this paper proposes to consider the extreme amount of reliance on African-American labor that helped to build the basic municipal, social and economic structures of the country.

Additionally, this paper will illuminate the type of treatment which African-American soldiers were subject to during virtually all phases of the history of America, from its beginning to contemporary times. It will discuss the notions of racism and prejudice as it pertained/pertains to these soldiers in the armed forces by considering facets of segregation and integration within the service. In doing so, this document will demonstrate that these people were called upon to fight in America's wars typically as a last resort. However, their influence repeatedly proved crucial and was one of the significant factors in the victory of the Colonial War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

Lastly, this document will demonstrate that because of the valuable assistance proffered by African-American soldiers, they deserve full equality and civil rights in this country. This statement is based on the impact of their assistance both within and without the military service.

Africans and African-Americans have always played an integral part in the foundation, establishment, and operation of the United States of America. This nation was largely erected due to slave labor in which African-Americans worked in the southern-based agricultural industries upon which the nation's economy was, constructed the railroad system which helped to connect the disparate locations across the nation, and engaged in numerous other skilled and unskilled tasks which eventually enabled America to thrive as a superpower. If African-American contributions within the military of this country have been significantly less discernible, they are no less important. Quite simply, African-Americans soldiers were influential in all of the major wars in which this country, from the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terror. This fact, in conjunction with the labor African-Americans produced in civilian aspects of life (even or especially during the epoch in which they were not even considered people) renders it ludicrous to deny these people equality in the current social economic climate of today, or even in any other socio-economic climate that has existed in America's history. As such, they are certainly deserving of the same civil rights and human rights as any other man in this country, or in any other country as well.

One of the little known facts associated with the founding of the U.S. is the role that African-American soldiers played in the waging of the Colonial War. In this war, as in many others which ensued, African-Americans fought on the same sides as Americans of European descent, or of any other descent. Actually, there is evidence that indicates that during the Revolutionary War, African-Americans actually fought on both sides -- that of the colonists and that of the British (particularly since Britain abolished slavery well before America did) (Selig). Although the motives for African-American soldiers may not have been the same as those of their European counterparts -- the latter were waging war for socio-economic freedom whereas African-Americans were fighting in order to gain freedom from slavery -- they nonetheless loaded up the same weapons and fought and died as other Americans did during this martial encounter. It is interesting to note that both factions in the Colonial War attempted to exploit African-American military prowess (in much the same way as they had exploited African-American slave labor). The British promised African-Americans freedom if they would join the side of Loyalists. The colonialists enabled African-Americans to enlist on their side in 1777, during a time when they were tired from fighting and realizing the fact that their situation was nearing the point of desperation. The subsequent quotation emphasizes this fact.

General Washington allowed the enlistment of free blacks with "prior military experience" in January 1776, and extended the enlistment terms to all free blacks in January 1777 in order to help fill the depleted ranks of the Continental Army. Because the states constantly failed to meet their quotas of manpower for the army, Congress authorized the enlistment of all blacks, free and slave, in 1777. (National Park Service).

This quotation is vital to understanding the importance of African-Americans in this martial encounter. In fact, it is largely indicative of the role that African-Americans played in the establishing of the country in general. Americans of European descent did not want to employ African-Americans, and thought themselves better than them and their pursuits too good for African-Americans as well. Yet when their needs became dire, they turned to African-Americans who helped them immensely. It is also important to realize that most Colonial regiments were integrated -- showing that there could be racial equality in the U.S. during times of adversity -- and that a substantial percentage of the colonial forces were comprised of African-Americans.

This approach to utilizing African-American soldiers during times of necessity was one of the key aspects of the Union's victory during the Civil War. There was a period during this martial encounter, prior to Abraham Lincoln's re-election, when the fate of the war was undecided or, perhaps even worse, favoring a Confederate victory. These realities were largely behind Abraham Lincoln's desire to enact the Emancipation Proclamation, which "eliminated laws that suppressed African-Americans from serving in 1863" (Wells). This political edict, then, did more than outlaw slavery; it enabled African-Americans to bolster the ranks of the Union army in a revitalizing effort that was every bit, if not perhaps more, efficacious than that which African-Americans provided during the Revolutionary War. African-American men (even those who were from Confederate states quickly took advantage of the opportunity to destroy their previous slave masters as "Once they obtained the right to serve for the Union two years into the Civil War, the men volunteered in droves. By the end of the war, more than 200,000 volunteered and about 40,000 died" (Wells). Their efforts in addition to some effective tactical maneuvering on the part of Union leaders such as William Sherman, helped to turn the tide of the martial encounter and restore the Union. Thus, it would not be inaccurate to state that not only did African-Americans play a key role in erecting this nation, but they also played a fundamental part in preserving it.

African-Americans also helped the U.S. To fight against the British in the War of 1812. Their involvement in this martial encounter was typical of their involvement in U.S. wars prior to the abolition of slavery. Both freedmen and slaves were recruited for the U.S. effort to stave off the British in what many have posited was simply a reprise of the Colonial War. Many slaves were enticed by the prospect of warring for the United States because they were promised their freedom in return. However, this same reward of freedom was offered to slaves who chose to join the British side, just as this opportunity had existed within the Revolutionary war. Another aspect of the War of 1812 that is typical of African-American involvement in U.S. martial encounters prior to slavery is that there was an integration of these soldiers and those of European descent. A significant part of this war was fought in the seas, and many African-Americans joined the U.S. Navy and played important roles in the victories against British ships, which had partially triggered the war due to Britain's unpopular impressment tactic in which they would seize U.S. ships and make the sailors sail for Britain. Despite the integrated ranks of the U.S. army, the old hostilities and feelings of superiority asserted by European-Americans remained, which the following quotation suggests. Commander Oliver Perry, for example, did not respect his Black seamen…He had complained that he only had received Blacks, soldiers and boys, but nobody advanced enough for his likings. Commodore Isaac Chauney disagreed with Perry, stating that of the best men on his own ship, many of them were Black (New York State).

What is significant about African-American participation in the War of 1812 is that not only did Black fight for their personal liberty and escape from bondage, but they also (freemen) fought to assist America's enterprise. In both respects they were willing to endure danger and the same bullets that could kill any other class of people during this martial conflict.

There were a number of interesting ramifications of the Civil War as specifically related to African-American involvement in the U.S. military. Despite the fact that…[continue]

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