It is hard to imagine such a young nation being at war the majority of her existence, but that is the history of the United States. This bellicose nation has fought in wars at home and abroad all while subjugating segments of her own citizenry. In the backdrop of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and so much more, Black men and women were willing to fight to make the words of our Declaration of Independence a reality.
This Memorial Day will not be filled with parades and celebrations to properly honor the men and women who bravely fought to secure democracy and freedoms for Americans and others around the world.
This Memorial Day marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Dan Goldberg has recently written “The Golden Thirteen: How Black Men Won the Right to Wear Navy Gold” which commemorates the bravery of thirteen African American men who integrated the U.S. Navy’s officer corps during the war.
Goldberg spent eight years researching the story of these forgotten heroes, intent on bringing them the attention they deserve. He draws on that research, as well as interviews with the men’s family members, to create a detailed picture of their lives and the opposition they faced, from the pseudoscience that propped up racist policies to the everyday degradation and brutality of America’s Jim Crow era.
Goldberg states, “These men were not career military men. They were teachers, lawyers, social workers, etc. who rose to the challenge to prove that Black men were worthy of rank, even as they faced discrimination both before the war and after they were commissioned.”
Goldberg argues that “the Black press played a critical role in making this story possible, hounding the Roosevelt administration for better treatment and reminding their readers of the hypocrisy of being called to defend a democratic ideal that did not exist in the United States.”
At a time of growing and blatant inequality in this COVID-19 era, we must remember those who fought and continue to fight for our basic freedoms. “The Golden Thirteen” highlights the lives, bravery, and service of Black Navy men, but I am so sure there are countless stories of this type of brave service throughout all branches of our armed services.
Since many of us are currently sheltering in place, now is the time to ask our fathers and grandfathers about their time in the service, their attempt to get into the service, or their lives when others were away in the service. All dimensions of their stories need to be told.
Let us remember and celebrate our rich history as citizens and patriots of this complicated nation. Dan Goldberg’s “The Golden Thirteen: How Black Men Won the Right to Wear Navy Gold” (Beacon Press, 2020) is currently on sale.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.