|Black, Brave, & Bold Part 3 - African American Congressional Medal of Honor Winners - The Spanish-American War & World War I|
Over 120 Medals of Honor were given for valor in the World War I, none to Blacks.
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On February 15, 1898, the Battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. Twenty-two African Americans were among the more than 250 American sailors killed. Stateside, bellicose newspaper headlines, surging expansionist sentiment, and Spanish atrocities in Cuba, helped to create an irresistible pro-war atmosphere.
In mid-April, President McKinley sent a war message to Congress which was quickly approved. The Regular Army was expanded to more than 62,000 men. Funding was provided for a volunteer Army of 125,000 men. White and some Black militia units were also called to service.
While they were getting ready, the Buffalo Soldiers (9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments) were among those regulars who were ordered to pack their weapons and equipment and set sail for Cuba. During the Spanish American War, six African Americans won the Medal of Honor, five of them members of the 10th Cavalry - - four of them for their bravery during the Battle of Tayabacoa - - and one sailor aboard the U.S.S. Iowa.
The Battle of TayabacoaThe July 14, 1898 edition of the New York Sun newspaper described Tayabacoa as "a hamlet at the mouth of a little river of the same name which empties into the Caribbean Sea about five miles west of Tunas, on the south coast of Santa Clara province. Tunas is a small port connected by rail with Saneti Spiritus in the centre of the island." A strongly defended Spanish fort stood about four miles west of Tunas. The guns of the fort covered the beach where the Americans had chosen to land supplies, equipment, mules, and reinforcements for the Cuban rebels.
Edward L. Baker, Jr. - A Sergeant Major born in Laramie County, WY, also in the 10th Cavalry, earned his medal for leaving "cover and, under fire, rescued a wounded comrade from drowning" in a stream at Santiago, Cuba on July 1, 1898. Baker received his medal in 1902.
Robert Penn - A Fireman First Class in the U.S. Navy, Penn was the only African American sailor to win a Medal of Honor during the Spanish American War. On July 20, 1898, while on board the U.S.S. Iowa in the harbor of Santiago, Cuba, the City Point, VA native, after an explosion in boiler room number #2, "at the risk of serious scalding at the time of the blowing out of the manhole gasket on board the vessel, hauled the fire while standing on a board thrown across a coal bucket one foot above boiling water which was still blowing from the boiler." He was awarded the Medal Honor six months later.
World War I - Recognition Delayed was Recognition Denied
Freddie Stowers - Born in Sandy Springs, SC, Corporal Freddie Stowers was part of the first military draft of the war. On September 28, 1918, Stowers, while serving as a squad leader of Co. C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, led his men in an assault on Hill 188.
Soon after the attack began, the German soldiers appeared to begin to surrender, but it was a trick. They resumed firing on the Black Doughboys. Stowers and his men made it to the German trench line and silenced one of their machine guns. Stowers was fatally wounded as he led his men forward, but he continued to encourage them to take their objective, which they did, inspired in large measure by his leadership and fearlessness.
Stowers' commanding officer recommended him for the Medal of Honor after his death, but "the paperwork was misplaced." It must be noted, however, that World War I took place during a period of intense and often violent racism against African Americans. Even Stowers' unit, the 93rd Division, was attached to the French Army because the American Army was initially reluctant to employ Black soldiers in combat. President Bush put the medal in hands of Stowers' sisters, Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowens.
Henry Johnson - (pictured) While the bravery of Freddie Stowers went unknown for decades, only his death listed as "killed in action" in a few newspapers, Henry Johnson was known for his courage almost from the beginning.
The New York Sun newspaper called him a "Prodigy of Valor." Former President Theodore Roosevelt called Johnson "one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war." A member of Co. C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, Johnson, who was born in Winston-Salem, NC, and his friend Needham Roberts were manning a forward outpost on May 15, 1918. They were attacked by a raiding party of at least 12 Germans.
In bitter hand-to-hand fighting, Johnson and Roberts sustained several serious wounds but kept resisting with rifles, knives, and fists. When the Germans tried to drag Roberts away, Johnson saved him. The Germans were forced to withdraw. Some journalists called it the "Battle of Henry Johnson."
His regiment, the 369th, was known as "The Harlem Hellfighters" and its gallant actions in the war helped change the American public's attitude toward Black American soldiers. Although the French gave him a medal, Johnson, who had come to New York City and worked as a porter, received nothing from the U.S. Army. He was unable to do his old job because of the 21 wounds he had sustained in the battle.
He died destitute and alone in 1929 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Sixty-seven years later, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Six years after that, he also posthumously received a Distinguished Service Cross. In June, 2015, President Obama awarded Johnson a Medal of Honor. "While the nation cannot change what happened to Johnson, and other soldiers like him, who were judged by the color of their skin, we can do our best to make it right," the President said.
From Our Archives: Black, Brave, & Bold Part 1 - African American Congressional Medal of Honor Winners - During the Civil War, Sergeant William H. Carney became the first Black to win the award.
Black, Brave, & Bold Part 2 - African American Congressional Medal of Honor Winners - The Indian Wars & The Interim Period
Publisher’s Note: Part 4 of this 5 part series will appear in an upcoming issue of Port Of Harlem.
“Branches of The Same Tree,” the latest album of the celebrated Ghanaian Afro roots artist Rocky Dawuni has been nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Reggae Album category for the 2016 Grammy awards.
A few other globally recognized artists with recent African lineage that were also nominated for the 2016 Grammys include The Weeknd of which Canadian born Ethiopian musician Abel Tesfaye is a member. They were nominated eight times, one under the R&B category for their song “Earned.” It was sung by Tesfaye for the “Fifty Shades of Gray” movie soundtrack.
In the Rap Song of the Year category, the single “All Day” from the seventh studio album by Kanye West titled SWISH also earned a Grammy nomination. Kanye credited over 20 artists for writing songs on this album, one of which is Victor Kwesi Mensah, popularly known as Vic Mensah, a Chicago based hip hop artist with a Ghanaian father.
Two-time Grammy winning artist Angelique Kidjo from the West African nation of Benin first won a Grammy in 2008 for her eighth studio album “Djin Djin,” then again in 2014 for her album “Eve,” both in the World Music category. She gets another taste this year with a nomination in the same category.
Zomba Prison group, the gentle chorus of maximum security prisoners, who sing over simple guitar chords, has earned the small landlocked country of Malawi, located in southeastern Africa, its first Grammy nomination.
Winners will be announced at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Monday, February 15, 2016.
Find the full list of nominees here.
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