Black Veterans: Now is Their Time to Be Counted and Compensated
With a Black President, many discussions have been re-kindled regarding the treatment of Blacks in various facets of American society. One area that still lacks in the depth required to first, identify problems and issues, and second, outline and implement solutions involves the care and support of Black veterans.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine all the problems and issues that specifically impact Black veterans and what they have been lacking from the country they have served for centuries because of the extensive gap that exists between veterans’ services and ALL veterans. However, there are few enough opportunities provided to reflect and remember the role that Black veterans played in securing the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Black veterans throughout America’s war history faced dual battles with little to show for the efforts. According to Nurtih C. Aizenman in a Washington Post article entitled, “Black Veterans of World War II received few of the honors their White brothers got,” Black veterans battled “against fascism overseas, and against racist laws and attitudes at home.”
In many cases, the outward increase of Blacks in the battlefields was really a last resort due to heavy casualties among White soldiers, especially during World War II. Black leaders urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to relent and allow Black soldiers to fight. Many excelled in the combat theater and the most celebrated among the Black veterans were the Tuskegee Airman, but there were also legendary Black veterans working on the ground warfare with equal valor, chief among them were the Army’s all-Black 92nd “Buffalo Soldiers” Infantry Division.
When thousands of Black soldiers stepped up to fill in the depleted ranks, they received few honors for the feats of heroism, lived in substandard, segregated quarters and while their White counterparts either returned home or were assigned to other respectable duties, the Black veterans were returned to the service-based positions they previously held as cooks, stewards or the most hated position, removing the corpses from the fields of battle.
No medal ceremonies for them just the cold indignities of a segregated armed forces that would not be desegregated until three years after the death of President Roosevelt by President Harry S. Truman in 1948.
The exploits of Black veterans were heralded in the Black Press which chronicled many of the feats of the soldiers of color who seemed to be invisible in the mainstream press and community plaques, as if there was no Black presence in the war.
However, whether the full story was told or not, those on the battlefield knew that Black soldiers had dispelled any perceptions that they lacked the intelligence, discipline and courage to fight.
Unfortunately, the battlefields of Europe and Japan with all their respective atrocities paled in comparison to those faced by Black veterans upon their return where racism prevailed, thus further limited their opportunities to excel. This mindset continues to impact returning Black veterans today even with increased access and opportunities in the armed forces.
According to a study by the Homelessness Research Institute, Blacks represent 45 percent of the homeless veteran population. And the factors that cause these disproportionate rates mirror those that impact the general homeless population, including unemployment, which is almost double that of Whites.
Black veterans returning from current battle grounds in Iraq and Afghanistan are covertly facing many of the same challenges as their fathers and grandfathers. The study reinforces the need to address the detrimental link between race and poverty, including Black veterans who served their country, to combat issues of homelessness and to give them their due, make their efforts count and compensate them for their brave service to secure our “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
This piece recognizes America’s responsibility to support all the veterans, especially the many unsung heroes of African descent who gave their lives for America’s freedom even when they knew they could not fully enjoy those freedoms. This is dedicated to the memory and legacy of Dr. Stan Hamilton, a veteran, humanitarian, advocate father figure and friend who committed his life to helping others and his last charge to me was to make sure that I help homeless veterans and feed hungry children.
Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.
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