It’s one of the last overlooked parts of American military history: the significant role African Americans played in the wars of America. Their story is more than just the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War, more than just a tank battalion in World War II: African Americans contributed to every war in American history. Gene Bétit tells this important story with verve and gusto, as well as respect. By their brave deeds, African Americans have secured a place in American military history, and Bétit makes sure they receive their due.
In the colonial wars, the Revolution, and the War of 1812, African Americans served as seamen, gunners, and marine sharpshooters in the Navy and served as 15 percent of the Continental Army. During the Civil War, blacks constituted nearly 200,000 soldiers of the Union Army and served in some of the war’s most celebrated regiments and toughest battles, and their service inspired the farthest-reaching of the Union’s emancipation policies.
In the decades after the Civil War, Black soldiers formed an important part of the U.S. Army, fighting as Buffalo Soldiers in the Indian Wars of the 1870s, up through the Spanish-American War. In World War I, the segregated 92nd and 93rd Divisions fought hard and received the Croix de Guerre from France. In World War II, more than 1 million Blacks served the United States—and more than 100,000 were assigned to combat duty, not only in the Black Panther tank battalion and the Tuskegee Airmen, but in other combat units and units that kept the American war effort supplied.
In the years since World War II, Truman integrated the military during the Korean War, but the African-American soldiers remain a class apart—during Korea, during Vietnam, and beyond.
This is a story with importance not only for military history, but for all of American history. And Gene Bétit does it careful, exciting justice.
Eugene DeFriest Bétit served twenty years in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence analyst and linguist and received a doctorate from Georgetown University. Since then, he has written books about the Civil War and African-American history, served as docent at Belle Grove Plantation, and volunteered at Cedar Creek National Battlefield Park. He lives in Winchester, Virginia.
Dr. Eugene Bétit, the author of three previous history books, including Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid (2019), is a skilled researcher and storyteller who carefully weaves a compelling narrative, drawing on primary sources and anecdotes designed to challenge our perspectives of U.S. military history. The book’s eight chapters are written chronologically and follow Black people’s contributions to U.S. wars. A two-stranded thematic approach details the systemic racism confronting Black people in the military, as well as their resilience, fortitude, and martial prowess despite such obstacles. The final chapter, “Vietnam to Today,” pays particular attention to how Black officers, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, advanced to the upper echelons of military rank. This is a useful primer and reference guide to the history of African American members of the armed forces, accompanied by ample photographs, charts, and appendices listing Black Medal of Honor recipients, four Buffalo Soldier regimental histories, and African American generals and admirals.
“Dr. Betit has completed a history of one of the most misunderstood and unreported sagas of American History, African Americans involvement in the military, and their role in the building and defense of the United States of America. This work is detailed, well researched, and extremely informative. Gene has contributed greatly to the body of literature that should be in all courses of study purporting to be African American History, and American History. Scholars should encourage their students to study, debate, and advance this contribution to the domain denoted as “Black History”. This work, while concentrating on the military aspects of African Americans participation in the United States Military, delivers far more concepts of cultural and societal understanding of a nation divided, and a group of abused, forgotten, and underappreciated people, men and women, willing to step forward and protect and defend it at all costs to themselves.”
“Gene Betit has written an important and timely book on the vast contributions African Americans have made in our nation's military. This is vital American history. These are stories and names all Americans should know.”
“In every American war, there have been a group of invisible heroes. Heroes who were shunned and died, forgotten on the path to democracy. These valiant Americans, some only days from being in chains, nevertheless gave the ultimate sacrifice. "All gave some, some gave all." Soldiers whose blood fed the tree of liberty. American heroes one and all. Black unsung patriots rivetingly documented in Gene Betit's Unsung Patriots: African Americans in America's Wars"
“The arc of African American military service is long, and it bends toward inclusion. From being initially barred from serving in General George Washington's army to a retired African American Army officer serving as Secretary of Defense, the full depth and range of Black military accomplishments and contributions to America can be found in one volume, Unsung Patriots: African Americans in American History. I welcome this marvelous work and highly recommend it.”
“Gene Bétit again proves that the best military history is written by those who have served in the armed forces. His twenty years in uniform, combined with an advanced civilian education has yielded a comprehensive history of African American service to their country. Well written and profusely illustrated, this book significantly contributes to the saga of black American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.”
“For far too long, the myriad contributions African Americans made to the development and progress of the United States from the American Revolution until the present have been absent from America’s popular consciousness. This volume, solidly researched and elegantly crafted, offers an excellent synthesis of those contributions and the various obstacles African Americans confronted as they fought and sacrificed for the ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality.”
“Dr. Bétit has accomplished a magnificent literary feat in chronicling the 240-year story of our African American warriors from the Boston Common to the Persian Gulf. This collection of facts, figures, and stories of Black soldiers is impressive in both its quantity and completeness without being overwhelming. This book is an epic saga of Black slaves becoming American soldiers and eventually their descendants becoming four-star generals leading America’s armies, with one Black warrior, Gen. Colin Powell, ultimately reaching the pinnacle of the American military structure, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Bétit points out, today, the Air Force Chief of Staff is an African American and for the first time the Secretary of Defense is a retired Black four-star general. It will be difficult to fully understand America's military history without reading this book.”
“Dr. Eugene Bétit’s Unsung Patriots: How African Americans Have Helped Fight Their County’s Wars from the Revolution to the Present is an important contribution to historical literature that recognizes the significant service of Black men and women in the American military throughout our country’s history. The book presents a harsh indictment of the overt and implicit racism and prejudice that has characterized acceptance, recruitment, use, and treatment of Blacks in the armed forces and the subsequent widespread and horrific treatment of Black veterans on their return to civilian life that extended well into the second half of the twentieth century. Based on eight years of extensive research in primary and secondary sources, Dr. Bétit combines expert statistical analysis and detailed description of military and political policies with illustrative individual soldier and military unit stories, painting a vivid picture of the impressive service record of Black military men and women.”