Veteran’s Day 2013, was more than merely a few more hours away from money-related work. The U.S.A., collectively, paid a proper tribute this past Monday to its military men and women who have continued to defend the country and to keep many of us safe from foreign harm. The day was also very important to the African American community. It was a day to reflect once again on the consistently significant role Blacks have played in the development of this country, in spite of the too-frequent underappreciation of that fact.
Crispus Attucks, as virtually every school child knows, was “the first to die in the rebellion against England,” that led to the freedom of these United States. Although not always acknowledged as such, he was a Black man, a former slave and independent dockworker, who led a group of “saucy boys, mulattos, Negroes and Jack Tars” in the first major encounter against the British Redcoats during the event that has come to be known as the Boston Massacre.
Attucks and the four men who died with him that evening were memorialized with a long-standing statue erected in 1888 in Boston Common near Tremont Street in present-day Boston. Attucks has long been called the leader of the rambunctious group whose members showed the British that the American colonists knew how to stand up against tyranny and oppression. Attucks represented both the Black American community at that time and all of the freedom-addicted American colonists.
Attucks was the first example of many thousands of Black folk who have volunteered to stand up for America against outside and inside forces. As a matter of fact, the U.S.A. has never fought a war (including the Civil War) without the presence and participation of African American fighting men, although that participation was usually not without a lot of political controversy.
George Washington and the Continental Army forces, for example, originally banned African Americans from joining up, but very quickly changed their minds after the British offered freedom to any Black man or woman who switched to the British side. Thousands did just that.
The famous Minute Men included Black soldiers, as did Vermont Territory’s sharp-shooting Green Mountain Boys. Blacks fought at Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill) and virtually every other major engagement of that War of Independence.
From before America’s inception then, African American soldiers and troops have been present and accounted for every time this country has gotten into a scrape. They don’t deserve more notice or honor than other American soldiers, but they certainly do deserve their fair share, in spite of all kinds of reasons for Black men and women at arms not to want to be bothered, and to slightly hesitate at saluting the flag.
Black folk have usually fought for this country in hopes of gaining the respect and recognition that triumphant warriors have generally been accorded historically. But try as they might to show their courage and valor—and Black Americans have won a huge trove of medals, from the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and the Purple Heart to every other medal available—knuckleheads among the citizenry still lynched some of them, burned their houses, harmed their children and families, and committed other foul deeds in attempts to “put Black soldiers back in their places” after the various wars were officially over. Grateful for your service, indeed.
But Black folk have kept the hope and faith of their forefathers alive, as they have continued the tradition of active, competent, and heroic participation in America’s various military adventures.
So, for Veteran’s Day past, present and future, let the bright light of redemptive bravery and warriorhood shine on and be praised. Thank you for standing up, Black men and women. From a grateful culture and people, you represent the best of us. We are in your debt.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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