African-Americans in the Armed Forces

Getting Started | American Revolution | War of 1812 | Mexican-American War | Civil War | Buffalo Soldiers | Spanish-American War | World War I | Tuskegee Airmen | World War II | Integration | Korean War | Vietnam and Beyond


African-Americans have fought in every major American conflict from the American Revolution through the present. This guide is designed for individuals interested in the role African-Americans have played in these conflicts and their relationship to the United States Armed Forces. It is organized in chronological order by eras surrounding major armed conflicts, along with other significant people and events in that timeline. Both print and network resources are included.

Please note that the resources listed here are meant to serve as starting points for further research. While certain eras offer more material than others, the following materials represent only a fraction of available information on this subject. Many of them contain lengthy bibliographies that will suggest further research. They will also suggest keywords to help you with on-line searching.

Getting Started

In general, finding resources on particular wars or the armed forces is easy. But materials that focus on African-Americans’ involvement are necessarily a smaller subset of the total number available. Nevertheless, it is still vital to consult authoritative and multiple resources whenever possible to confirm the accuracy of the information contained within them. Examples of authoritative sources include primary sources such as official military documents or well-known resources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is also important to remember that while primary resources come from people who experienced the events described, they may not always represent historical fact. For example, the writings of a soldier in his journal may mistakenly misrepresent or omit facts confirmed by other sources.

It may help you to try different terms when searching on-line. The resources below will suggest specific individuals, groups, and events to try as keywords. Different combinations will usually result in different resources and number of results. Generally, the more terms you add to your search string, the more specific you will make it, unless your search engine uses an OR operation (“Find This Term OR That Term”). For general searches, you may try using the names of wars, groups, events, or time periods in conjunction with such terms as “African-American,” “Black,” or “Negro.” (Although Negro is passe today, it appears in most historical documents that discuss African-Americans before the Civil Rights Movement.)

Your library may own other books or materials on the lives of African-Americans. Non-fiction resources in academic libraries are typically organized by the Library of Congress classification system.

General Library of Congress Call Numbers
UB 416-419 — Military Science — Administration — Minorities, Women, Etc.
E 181-182 — Military History & Naval History
E 184.5-185.98 — African Americans; Status and Development Since Emancipation; Biography and Genealogy
E 745-746 — Twentieth Century Military History and Naval History

Public and school libraries are more likely to use the Dewey Decimal cataloging scheme.

General Dewey Decimal Call Number
973 — American History

General Sites on the Internet:
African-Americans & the U.S. Coast Guard (http://www.uscg.mil/history/African_American_Index.asp)
An account written by retired Chief Journalist Alex Haley.

Career Reports: Military (http://www.black-collegian.com/career/career-reports/rpmilit.shtml)
A look at the military as a career option for young African-Americans.

Historic Context for the African-American Military Experience (http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA350395&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf)
A lengthy and detailed account of African-American military service through the present. Maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

African-American Warriors (http://www.aawar.net/default.htm)
Links for categories and individuals.

Blacks in the Military (http://www.fatherryan.org/blackmilitary/indexnew.htm)
Useful for a quick look at various groups and events.

General Print Resources:

African-Americans in the Navy: A Bibliography (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq57-1.htm)

The American Revolution 1775-1783

The American Revolution is notable as the last time that American armed forces would see integration until the Korean conflict. Both the British and the American sides offered freedom to slaves in exchange for service.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 201-298 The Revolution
Dewey — 973.3 Revolution & Confederation, 1775-1788

On the Internet:
The Revolution’s Black Soldiers (http://americanrevolution.org/blk.html) by Robert A. Selig, Ph.D.
This is a lengthy article about the role African-Americans played in the war. It includes an extensive bibliography and links to related Web pages.

In Print:
The Negro in the American Revolution by Benjamin Quarles.
Paperback Reprint edition (October 1996) Univ of North Carolina Pr; ISBN: 0807846031.
Originally published in 1961, this 231-page book remains one of the most comprehensive works on the subject, though some scholars consider it outdated by current historical standards.

War of 1812 1812-1814

Very little information has been published about African-Americans’ role in the United States’ second war with England. Their involvement appears to have been primarily limited to naval service, and both sides once again promised freedom to slaves who fought in their service. The following may provide some starting points.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 351-364.9 War of 1812
Dewey — 973.5 1805-1845

On the Internet:

The War of 1812: Impressment

A brief article highlighting African-American involvement in the navies of the British and the Americans.

In Print:
Amongst My Best Men: African-Americans and the War of 1812 by Gerard T. Altoff.
Paperback – 181 pages (May 1, 1996). The Perry Group; ISBN: 1887794026

Mexican-American War 1846-1848

Little appears to have been written about African-Americans’ involvement in the American war with Mexico. Therefore, researchers may have to consult more general materials to search for information.

Relevant Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 401-415.2 Mexican-American War
Dewey — 973.6 1845-1861

On the Internet:
Yahoo! – U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/History/By_Time_Period/19th_Century/Military_History/U_S____Mexican_War__1846_1848_/)

Civil War 1861-1865

In general, resources about the Civil War are abundant, both in print and on the Internet. As an indirect result, materials on African-Americans who participated in the war are also more plentiful than for any other conflict of the 19th century. Freedmen fought in segregated units for the Union Army. Although reports of African-Americans serving the Confederate cause are rare, they do exist, and you may wish to consider them in your research.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 456-655, especially 491-600 US Civil War
Dewey — 973.7

On the Internet:
Yahoo! Directory to African-American Units (http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/Countries/United_States/Society_and_Culture/Cultures_and_Groups/Cultures/American__United_States_/African_American/History/Civil_War_Units/)
A short directory of Web pages about Black soldiers of the Union Army.

African-American History & the Civil War (http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/history/aa_history.htm)
Maintained by the National Parks Service, this site contains infromation about African-Americans in the Civil War as well as a worthwhile summary of their service throughout American history.

In Print:
Slaves To Soldiers: African-American Fighting Men In The Civil War by Wallace B. Black.
64 pages. Publication Date: March 1998. Publisher: Franklin Watts, Inc. ISBN: 0531202526
Explores the circumstances of African-Americans who fought in the Civil War, including slaves, free southerners, and northerners. Child/Teen title.

African American Women During The Civil War by Ella Forbes.
250 pages. Publication Date: April 1998. Publisher: Garland Publishing. ISBN: 0815331150
Documents the involvement of Black women during the war by collecting primary sources.

Buffalo Soldiers

The Buffalo Soldiers were the members of the all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments who served in the post-Civil War American West until the late 1880s and 1890s. They also fought in the Spanish-American War.

On the Internet:
Yahoo! Directory to Buffalo Soldiers (http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/Countries/United_States/Society_and_Culture/Cultures_and_Groups/Cultures/American__United_States_/African_American/History/Buffalo_Soldiers/)
A directory of Web pages about the Buffalo Soldiers.

Black History Pages – Buffalo Soldiers (http://blackhistorypages.com/link-directory/buffalo-soldiers/page)
Lists brief information about the Buffalo Soldiers as well as a bibliography of print resources.

The Buffalo Soldiers on the Western Frontier (http://www.imh.org/exhibit.php?exhibition=Buffalo)
Provides historical information and images concerning the role of African-Americans on the western frontier. Also includes a comprehensive bibliography of works related to the “Buffalo Soldier.”

The Buffalo Soldiers (http://www.5x5media.com/bhp/pages/buffalo.shtml)
More books, links, videos and DVDs about this topic.

In Print:
Black Valor: Buffalo Soldiers and the Medal of Honor, 1870-1898 by Frank N. Schubert
(Scholarly Resources, June 1997); Hardcover. Examines Buffalo Soldiers’ involvement in both the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War through the stories of twenty-three Medal of Honor recipients.

Spanish-American War 1898

Although the Buffalo Soldiers did not continue as regiments into the 20th Century, they and other African-American volunteers did serve in the Spanish-American war at the close of the 1800s.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 714-735 Spanish-American War
Dewey — 973.8 Reconstruction

On the Internet:
Black Participation in the Spanish-American War (http://www.spanamwar.com/AfroAmericans.htm)
Despite its poor background image, this article contains a detailed account and bibliography concerning African-Americans’ role in the war.

In Print:
Spanish-American War (http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/afhist/afspan.htm)
A short bibliography of titles about African-Americans during the war.

The Black Troopers: Or, the Daring Heroism of the Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War by Miles Vandahurst Lynk.
Published by AMS Press, 1971. Hardcover.

“The Black Volunteers In The Spanish-American War” by Marvin Fletcher.
Article. Published in Military Affairs 38 (April 1974), pp. 48-53.

World War I 1917-1918

The first World War saw approximately 400,000 African-Americans serve during their country’s brief involvement in the war. Although this was a source of pride to many soldiers and African-Americans at home, returning Black soldiers did not encounter any lessening of discrimination in postwar America.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — D 501-680 World War I
Dewey — 973.9 1901-1953

On the Internet:
Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War (http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Scott/ScottTC.htm)
A full-text version of a book detailing the involvement of Black Americans in World War I, as written by Emmett J. Scott, Special Adjutant to the Secretary of War. Copyright 1919.

In Print:
World War I (http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/afhist/afwwi.htm)
A bibliography of books and periodicals.

The Tuskegee Airmen

Distinguished as the first African-American pilots to serve the United States Military in the United States Air Corps. They were originally trained as pilots at the famous Black college, the Tuskegee Institute.

On the Internet:
Yahoo! Directory of Tuskegee Airmen (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/History/By_Time_Period/20th_Century/Military_History/World_War_II/Units/United_States/Army_Air_Corps/Tuskegee_Airmen/)
A directory of links to various Web pages on the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen (http://www.cr.nps.gov/csd/exhibits/tuskegee/airoverview.htm)
A look at the Tuskegee Airmen maintained by the National Parks Service.

The Tuskegee Airmen (http://www.5x5media.com/bhp/pages/tuskair.shtml)
Books, links, videos and DVDs about the Tuskegee Airmen.

In Print:
Tuskegee Reference (http://logicalthinker2.tripod.com/TuskegeeRef.html)
A bibliography of print materials.

World War II 1941-1945

Along with the Tuskegee Airmen, the second World War saw the distinguished service of Black infantrymen, tank units, sailors, and Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American general for the United States.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — D 731-838
Dewey — 973.9 1901-1953

On the Internet:
USS Mason (http://www.ussmason.org/)
A detailed look at the USS Mason, a WWII destroyer with a predominantly Black crew.

World War II Medals of Honor – Fifty Years Late (http://www.5x5media.com/bhp/pages/wwiimedals.shtml)
A list of winners, books, videos and DVDs for more information.

In Print:
The Double V Campaign : African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper.
Hardcover – 96 pages (July 1998). Published by Lodestar Books. ISBN: 0525675620

World War II (http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/afhist/afwwii.htm)
A bibliography of resources on African-Americans in World War II.


In 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially integrating the U.S. Armed Forces several years before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s gained momentum. However, de facto segregation remained in many divisions until the Korean conflict.

Relevant Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 813-816 Truman’s Administrations

Text of Truman’s Executive Order (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/9981.htm)

The Truman Administration and the Desegregation of the Armed Forces: A Chronology (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/deseg1.htm)
A timeline that explains efforts during Truman’s Presidency to desegregate the Armed Forces.

Integration of the Armed Forces (http://www.army.mil/integration/)
A chronology of both African-American military service and integration of the Armed Forces.

Korean War 1950-1953

The Korean War (technically a “police action”) was the first armed conflict since the American Revolution that saw Black and white Americans fighting in the same units. It was also the last to see segregated units such as the 24th Infantry.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — E 813-816 Truman’s Administrations
Dewey — 973.9 1901-1953

On the Internet:

Black Combat Units In Korean War Action (http://members.aol.com/warlib/dkc2.htm)
An account of the last segregated units of the American Armed forces during wartime.

In Print:
Korean war (http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/afhist/afkor.htm)
A bibliography of print materials.

Vietnam War and Beyond

With integration, African-Americans gradually began to lose their unique status within the Armed Forces. As a result, materials focusing on their status as minorities are often less abundant than those for pioneers such as the Buffalo Soldiers or the Tuskegee Airmen. However, issues of discrimination still arise in post-Korea materials. Other issues include opposition to the Vietnam War and the rise of African-Americans into the highest ranks of the Armed Forces, including General Colin Powell’s role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the George (Herbert Walker) Bush Administration. And in 2008, President Barack Obama became the first African-American to hold the highest rank in the Armed Forces, Commander-in-Chief, aka President of the United States.

Call Numbers
Library of Congress — D 557-559.9 Vietnam Conflict
Library of Congress — E 881-884 Bush Administration (Operation Desert Storm)
Dewey — 973.92 1953-Present

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Don’t forget the other IPL Pathfinders on Military History. They provide informed guides on the wider categories of Military History and certain wars.

This pathfinder created by Tom Kochinski.