(CNSNews.com) - In a speech commemorating Black History Month at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Vice President Mike Pence paid tribute Tuesday to African Americans in the military.
President Donald Trump signed a proclamation last month commemorating February as National African American history month with the theme “African Americans in Times of War.”
“And as President Trump said in his proclamation commemorating this month, we remember all those African Americans who, in his words, ‘Bravely fought and died in the name of freedom, while at the same time struggling to attain equality, respect, and the full privileges of citizenship,” Pence said.
“It truly is amazing to think about the contributions of African Americans in the uniform of the United States. It is accurate to say African Americans have worn the uniform of the United States and fought in every war since the American founding,” Pence said.
Pence told the story behind “Washington’s Crossing” by Emanuel Leutze, a painting which depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware River with his soldiers.
“For in that small boat, crossing that river, are all different types of Americans in all different apparel — patriots all - some from the South, some from the North, but there in the boat, pulling on an oar, is a man with a short jacket, in the garb of a New England seaman, and he is an African American soldier crossing the Delaware with George Washington.
Now as David Hackett Fischer recounts in his book, this was a reflection of a reality. The 14th Massachusetts Continental was actually raised in Marblehead and recruited from fishing towns and on the north shore of Massachusetts. There were challenges, one can imagine, when you appreciate the history. An army led by George Washington, himself an owner of slaves, but an army that integrated an America of southern colonies and northern colonies.
“George Washington, as history records, first allowed African Americans to simply continue in the ranks. But I say with great pride, as history records, by the end of the Revolutionary War, African Americans were actively recruited, and some rose to the rank of colonel in New England regiments in the army of the American founding.
It’s a story that lives on, that we need to tell our children and our grandchildren, to understand that literally, since before the founding of this country, African Americans wore the uniform of the United States and fought for the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and our founding documents.
We remember in this month heroes all. Men like Crispus Attucks, who perished in the Boston Massacre; Lemuel Hayes, who fought at Lexington and Concord. We remember the nearly 200,000 African American Union soldiers who bravely sacrificed and forged a new birth of freedom for our nation in the fires of the Civil War. We remember the Buffalo Soldiers who helped tame the West; the Tuskegee Airmen, several of whom I’ve had the great honor to meet, who flew for freedom in World War II."
Pence then told the story of the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, Lt. Henry Flipper.
“And we also remember a man that I had the privilege of helping to pay tribute to at the annual dinner in his name — a graduate of West Point Military Academy, Henry Flipper. Lieutenant Henry Flipper became the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy in 1877, just 12 years after the end of slavery and its eradication from the Republic.
Sadly, only four years later, history records that, after serving with great distinction and valor and courage in the 10th Cavalry, Henry Flipper was unjustly accused of a crime he did not commit, and he was ejected from the Army dishonorably.
Happily, history was righted. In 1976, the Army corrected this historic wrong and retroactively awarded Henry Flipper an honorable discharge, and his name and his service to America was restored.
In fact, every year, there is the Henry Flipper Dinner at the West Point Military Academy, where a new candidate is, each year, commemorated in the great tradition of that trailblazing American hero, Henry Flipper. In fact, his legacy would go on to inspire generations of African Americans in uniform at that great and storied institution.”
Pence said when he was in South Korea for the Winter Olympics, he spent time with Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, “who was the West Point Military Academy’s first African American cadet’s first captain when he graduated in 1980.”
The vice president also recognized Sgt. Pat Locke, the first female African American graduate of West Point, who was on hand at the museum.