By Sandi Gohn
To celebrate and commemorate Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865, we’ve rounded up the following stories published by the USO over the past decade that celebrate African Americans serving in the U.S. military throughout history:
They may not have broken the sound barrier in their P-51 Mustangs, but the Tuskegee Airmen broke through the barrier that — until World War II — had kept African Americans from becoming military pilots. In the process, they advanced the civil rights movement at home. This 2012 USO story, which was republished in 2020, dives into the Tuskegee Airmen’s inspiring history.
This clip from the 2016 PBS documentary “USO – FOR THE TROOPS” discusses how, despite pervasive racism in the American South during WWII, the USO adhered to its policy to provide a home away from home for all service members. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Black soldiers at Camp Shelby found a safe place to relax, socialize and let their guard down at the East 6th Street USO.
Did you know that African Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces during every major conflict since the American Revolution, even in times of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination? Dive into this 2019 article, which was republished in 2020, to learn about the astonishing bravery of six African American service members, including Oleta Crain, who went above and beyond the call of duty.
In 2016, the USO staff sat down with WWII-era USO volunteer Vermell Jackson at the African American Military History Museum. The museum – once the home of a rare segregated USO – still displays many happy memories from what was an otherwise trying time in the United States. Jackson’s words echo the sentiments of the photos and encased artifacts at the museum.
5. In World War I, African American ‘Hellfighters from Harlem’ Fought Prejudice to Fight for Their Country
Did you know that before the African American National Guard soldiers of New York’s 15th Infantry Regiment became known as the famed “Black Rattlers,” “Men of Bronze” or “Hellfighters of Harlem,” they had to fight just to see combat in World War I? This 2020 USO story dives into their story.
During 183 days of continuous combat, the mostly Black 761st Tank Battalion of WWII fought across Europe - from the Battle of the Bulge to the Battle of the Rhine - eventually making it all the way to Austria.
For Black History Month in 2017, the USO put together a list to shine a light on just a few of the countless African American barrier breakers, including Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeanine McIntosh, who have served throughout the history of the nation.
He had to wait 52 years, but Vernon Baker finally got what he deserved. When President Bill Clinton clasped the Medal of Honor around Baker’s neck in the East Room of the White House on January 13, 1997, a lone tear rolling down the recipient’s cheek, his distinguished Army career was finally acknowledged. This 2015 USO article tells Baker’s story.
The U.S. military has a long tradition of African Americans serving. And although the military was not legally desegregated until 1948 by President Harry S. Truman, the USO served the needs of African American service members from the outset. In this 2010 story, learn more about the history of African American service members and the USO.
The USO has a special place in Enoch Woodhouse’s heart. It’s not because of anything material the organization gave him, but for the immaterial reception, compassion and understanding its volunteers and staff provided him with during a challenging time. The then-17-year-old Tuskegee Airman experienced the USO for the first time in 1944. Watch this video from 2015 to hear his story.
More from the USO
May 7, 2021
How the USO and Celebrities Teamed Up to Support Military Moms Through Entertainment
The USO and celebrities teamed up to provide military moms all around the world with entertainment and conversation that acknowledged the immense challenges, sacrifices and joys that come with motherhood in the military.