Seminar opens eyes to history of African Americans in uniform

24 Feb 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

The United States of America has had a long and prosperous history since its birth in 1776. Yet, with all the cultural and economic strides this nation has scribed in its history books, a poisonous vein has run through it all: racism.

Although Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” the American people have allowed fear of the unknown and the different to drive them toward hatred of those apart from themselves. What is even more heinous is that this social practice continued with the march of time well into the 20th century, not allowing equality to progress along with technology.

“We as a people have been gradually working toward eliminating racism, and to get there, educating is the best tool,” said Zakiya Mabery, affirmative employment and special emphasis program manager with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

Education was one of the focal points during the African-American War Heroes - True Stories of Patriotism & Valor seminar in honor of Black History Month at the Workforce Learning Center aboard the base, Feb. 24.

From the 10th Cavalry Regiment “Buffalo Soldiers,” a segregated fighting unit that fought in the 1898 Spanish-American War, to the 761st Army Tank Battalion, the first African-American combat tank unit in World War II, this one-hour seminar covered every aspect of the historical struggles of the African Americans in uniform since America’s creation.

“This information is necessary for those people who may not have known this side of the military’s history,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Lenorris Williams, corpsman with 2nd Dental Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “It brings things into perspective and you really get a feel of something you may have known in history but not fully understood.”

The seminar started with an informational video, mainly chronicling the various influences African Americans had on the uniformed services throughout the 20th century, it was not until President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 in 1941, prohibiting government contractors from employment discrimination based on race and color. This, along with the subsequent World War II breaking the color barrier for African Americans in the military catapulted the integration movement into full swing.

After the video, the seminar floor was open to discussion and questions. Participants asked blunt, honest questions in an environment meant strictly for education and not for judgment. This helped enlighten some while re-enforcing previous knowledge for others.

“Classes like these are important because they help diffuse myths and stereotypes about various minority groups,” said Mabery. “Being able to talk about it in an open forum and ask candid questions is a crucial part in understanding this history as opposed to a one-hour lecture.”

From the Tuskegee Airmen, the Golden 13 and Montford Point to the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the 6888th Central Postal Battalion and the Red Ball Express, all ‘firsts’ in African American uniformed service helped drive this seminar to success. Understanding history in every aspect, not just the part that pertains to one’s individual history, cannot be underrated.