It’s officially Black History Month in the United States. The commemorative month was first proposed by students and educators at Kent State University in 1969 and ultimately recognized nationally by President Gerald Ford during the United States Bicentennial, when he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Here at Nine Line we’re well aware of the “too-often neglected accomplishments” of those in the military — no matter what their skin color underneath their uniforms. But the accomplishments of black service members seem to be even more neglected.
Herewith we present eight stories of bravery and determination — that you’ve probably never heard before.
1. The first casualty of the American Revolution was a black man — Crispus Attucks, a former slave, became the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War when he was killed during the Boston Massacre in 1770.
2. The first black Minuteman enlisted after he was freed — Lemuel Haynes enlisted to fight in the American Revolutionary War and fought in the 1775 Battle of Lexington. He chose that path after being freed from “indentured servitude.” Haynes later was ordained a Protestant Minister.
3. The first line officer in U.S. Army history led the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment during the Civil War. Maj. Martin Robison Delaney was the first African-American field officer in the U.S. Army. In 1850,he was one of the first three black men admitted to Harvard Medical School, but all were kicked out weeks later after widespread protests by white students.
4. A former Tuskegee Airman because the first black four-star General. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. was a military hero, but he was also unabashedly patriotic. As riots convulsed the nation after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights progress seemed to stall, James said “I’m not disgusted-I’m a citizen of the United States of America and I’m no second-class citizen either and no man here is, unless he thinks like one and reasons like one and performs like one. This is my country and I believe in her, and I will serve her, and I’ll contribute to her welfare whenever and however I can. If she has any ills, I’ll stand by her until in God’s given time, through her wisdom and her consideration for the welfare of the entire nation, she will put them right.”
5. The first black female commander in the Marines started out as a supply administrative clerk — During her command of Camp Lejeune, N.C., Col. Adele E. Hodges oversaw more than 47,000 Marines and sailors. Her “only aspiration when [she] first joined the Corps was to be the best Marine [she] could be for four years.” Well, she beat that by a mile.
6. The first black female Rear Admiral (Navy) was born just one year after the integration of women and minorities into the military. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Lillian E. Fishburne also became the highest-ranking black woman in the U.S. Navy. She’s now retired.
7. The first black woman to serve as Marine Brigadier General was born in Jamaica. Lorna Mahlock immigrated from the island in 1991, and began her USMC career shortly after. Her nomination was approved in 2018 and signed off by none other than Donald J. Trump.
8. The first black female pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard first worked as a flight attendant. 1st Lt. Andrea Lewis followed in her parents’ footsteps with a career in the air. Her father was a pilot in the Marine Corps and then continued his career with American Airlines. Lewis’ mother is a career flight attendant with Delta. Lewis started as a flight attendant with the Air Force Reserves while training to be pilot. After nine years she achieved her goal.
Hats off to all these men and women, past and present, who have served in the uniform of our nation. Words enough can never express our appreciation.