First Casualty of the American Revolution
Crispus Attucks: The former slave was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War when he was killed during the Boston Massacre. In 1888 the Crispus Attucks monument was unveiled in the Boston Common.
First Black Minuteman
Library of Congress
Lemuel Haynes: He served as a minuteman during the American Revolutionary War, fighting at the April 1775 Battle of Lexington. He was an indentured servant who enlisted in the war after earning his freedom. He later became an ordained Protestant minister.
First Field Officer in the U.S. Army
Maj. Martin Robison Delany: He was the first African-American field officer in the U.S. Army. He led the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment and became the first line officer in U.S. Army history. He was accepted at Harvard Medical School but was kicked out after three weeks when white students petitioned for his removal.
Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (Medal of Honor)
South Carolina Military Museum
Cpl. Freddie Stowers: On Sept. 28, 1918, while serving as squad leader of Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, Stowers went above and beyond the call of duty when his company led the attack at Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, according to his Medal of Honor citation. (The medal was presented to Stowers’ surviving sisters during ceremonies at the White House on April 24, 1991.)
First Black Marines
Montford Point Marines: They trained at a facility called Montford Point that operated at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from 1942 to 1949, when the military was segregated. While the achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen and buffalo soldiers are well-documented, the Marines have received little recognition. Until now, that is. Congress recently voted to honor about 20,000 with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor.
Extraordinary Heroism (Medal of Honor)
First Lt. Vernon J. Baker: He received a Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism in action near Viareggio, Italy, during World War II. Then holding the rank of second lieutenant, Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company’s attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. The federal government later acknowledged that racism was the reason he didn’t receive the medal until 50 years later.
A Tuskegee Airman
Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: During World War II, he commanded the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group (both part of the Tuskegee Airmen) and became the first black general of the U.S. Air Force. The bravery of the Tuskegee Airmen, who fought enemies abroad and racism at home, has been captured in the George Lucas feature film Red Tails.
First Black General
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.: The Tuskegee Airman was the first African American to become full general and achieve four stars. Upon being promoted to general, he was named commander of the North American Air Defense Command, which made him responsible for all aspects of defense for the United States and Canada.
A Top-Ranking Black Female Officer
Harriet M. Waddy: She was one of the two highest-ranking black officers in the women’s Army Corps in World War II. She said that joining the segregated military ”and accepting a situation which does not represent an ideal of democracy” was not ”a retreat from our fight” but ”our contribution to its realization,” according to the New York Times. Before entering the military, she was an aide to Mary McLeod Bethune.
U.S. Army’s First Black Four-Star General
Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr.: Before Gen. Colin Powell, there was Robinson, who became the first African-American four-star general in the U.S. Army. The West Point graduate’s career spanned two wars and four stars. In 1993 West Point recognized him as a distinguished graduate.
Service in Vietnam
Pfc. Milton Olive III: He was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of four other U.S. Army soldiers during a battle early in the Vietnam War. Milton used his body to cover a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. “It was the most incredible display of selfless bravery I ever witnessed,” the platoon commander later told a journalist.
First Black Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. Colin L. Powell: He served 35 years in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of four-star general and becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989 to 1993). National security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, he was appointed secretary of state in 2001 in George W. Bush’s administration. He received numerous awards, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with three Oak Leaf Clusters), a Purple Heart and numerous decorations from other countries.
First Black Female Commander
Col. Adele E. Hodges: She was the first woman to command Camp Lejeune, N.C. Hodges oversaw more than 47,000 Marines and sailors. She headed up new training, improved infrastructure and enhanced security. After two years, she joined the Inspector General’s Office at Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, Va.
First Black Female Rear Admiral
Lillian E. Fishburne: Appointed by President Bill Clinton, she became the first African-American woman to hold the rank of rear admiral. The appointment also made the now-retired Fishburne the highest-ranking African-American woman in the U.S. Navy.
From Air Force Pilot to First Black Astronaut
Col. Guion S. Bluford Jr.: After flying combat missions over Vietnam as a U.S. Air Force pilot, he went on to become one of America’s first black astronauts. He flew 144 combat missions, 65 over North Vietnam, as a member of the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.