Johnson is a part of a long African American military tradition of exceptional devotion to a country that, through its history, denied blacks their rights and discriminated against and humiliated its black soldiers.
These were the men of the iconic 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War and of the Harlem Hellfighters in World War I, of the Buffalo Soldiers on the frontier and of the legendary Tuskegee airmen in World War II.
He said that at the conclusion of the war, “there will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”
Roughly 180,000 black soldiers served, about 9 percent of all Union forces.
At the outset of World War I, W.E.B. Du Bois strongly supported black enlistment, in the hopes that the sacrifice would lead to better treatment.