Black History Month Starts Today and Ends on February 28

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‘We Can Be a Better Country If We Know These Stories.’ The Complicated History of African Americans in the Military

Source: Time

There are as many different kinds of war stories as there are people who have been called to fight. There are inspirational war stories, gruesome war stories, sad war stories. But in all of them, necessitated by the very nature of war, there’s some kind of sacrifice. Understanding those sacrifices and why they were made can change the way we see the whole history of war — and of ourselves.

At least, that’s how NYU professor and journalist Yvonne Latty sees it. Her father was a veteran, but it was not until after his death, as she worked on the 2004 book We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans, from World War II to the War in Iraq, that she was able to reframe the stories he had told her during her childhood. She came to understand more deeply how the sacrifices made by African Americans who had served in the U.S. military affected the opportunities that she herself would have in civilian life. She also saw how that deeper understanding could change the way she, and other people of color, saw the world.

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(Original Caption) Negro nurses arrive in Europe. U.S. Army nurses, newly arrived, line the rail of their vessel as it pulls into a port, somewhere in the European theatre of operations. They wait to disembark as the gangplank is lowered to the dock.

“It makes me feel like I want to be the best version of myself that I can be, that I didn’t squander the sacrifices my father and so many others made so that I could have the opportunities I have,” she says. “And that’s the thing. If you know what your people have gone through — if you really, really know — there’s no stopping you.”

That’s just one reason it’s a problem, as she sees it, that far too many people don’t know. In the lead-up to this year’s February Black History Month observance — the theme of which is “African Americans in Times of War” — she spoke to TIME about that past and why it’s so often overlooked.

TIME: Speaking to veterans who served over the course of many wars, what were the big changes you noticed between stories from decades ago and more recent accounts?

LATTY: In World War II, the military was segregated. The black men who served were treated like second-class citizens. They weren’t, in many cases, even allowed to fight. Now it’s an equal-opportunity employer, you know? Anyone can fight and the military is integrated. That’s the really big change.

Is there anything that hasn’t changed?

That African-Americans who join the military are looking for opportunity and to better their lives. That’s the one thing that was clear in every war and is still clear.

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5 replies

    • would be preferable if you would not use the ‘anonymous’ name. People like Somi will misuse it too.

  1. I don’t think that Africans reached America before they were taken there by the Europeans, of which Columbus was supposed to have been the first. However, we now know that the Vikings reached America before Columbus.

  2. A good Muslim should be greateful to MLK
    Be cause of him, Muslim have the right to practise Islam in Americs as welll in Europe.

    May God bless MLK Amen

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