Black History Month: The Pursuit for Independence
As early as the 1940s, some communities celebrated Negro History week (later known as Black History Month) in February, recognizing Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass’ birthdays and their contributions to African American liberation. President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Each year African Americans’ accomplishments are featured during February. Some recognizable and others who quietly changed the world. In honor of Black History Month, we would like to highlight a few black Veterans who may not be well known but changed the world.
Abraham Galloway remarkably went from a slave in 1857 to a North Carolina state Senator in 1868. As a slave, he was permitted to seek brick masonry jobs in Wilmington, N.C., with the provision that he would pay most of his earnings to his owner. In 1857, at the age of 20, Galloway escaped from slavery on a boat headed to Philadelphia. Galloway arrived successfully but was sent to Ontario to avoid bounty hunters.
Later he returned to the U.S. and joined the Union Army as a spy. He posed as a slave to gather intelligence from confederate troops and set up a spy network in parts of the South. He helped raise three regiments of United States Colored Troops. It is said Galloway became one of the most significant and inspiring black leaders in the South during the Civil War. He risked his life behind enemy lines, recruited black soldiers for the North, and fought racism in the Union Army’s ranks. Galloway also stood at the forefront of an African American political movement that flourished in the Union-occupied parts of North Carolina, even leading a historic delegation of black southerners to the White House to meet with President Lincoln to demand the full rights of citizenship. He later became one of the first black men elected to the North Carolina legislature.
Della H. Raney
Della Raney was the first African American chief nurse commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. She was one of approximately 500 black nurses that served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II.
Until 1941, the Army only employed white nurses. Despite this rejection, Raney persisted in becoming an Army nurse. To be considered for military service, a nurse needed the endorsement of the American Red Cross. She wrote in 1983 :
“When I entered nursing more than forty years ago, it was serious business with me. It was a commitment to give my life for a cause – that of caring for those who were ill …It was this strong desire to elevate my profession that led me to volunteer for military service in 1940 with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Getting accepted by the Red Cross was difficult for graduates of black schools of nursing in the south, but I persisted in overcoming this barrier to the point of writing Miss Mary Beard, who at that time was director of nursing for the American Red Cross, telling her of my desire to serve my country and practice my profession. Miss Beard replied with my membership card, certificate, and pin.” [i]
In January 1941, the Army opened its Nurse Corps to African American nurses but established a limit of 56 nurses. African American nurses were only allowed to care for African American servicemen.
Later that year, Raney was commissioned as a second lieutenant, where she worked as a nursing supervisor. She was transferred to the Tuskegee Army Air Field Station Hospital in 1942 as the chief nurse. Raney was promoted to captain in 1944. At the time, she was the only black woman to earn that rank and work for the Army Air Forces. In 1946, Raney was promoted again to Major and served in Japan. After that, she returned to the United States as Director of Nursing for the base hospital. Raney retired in 1978 after earning the highest rank of any African-American nurse who served in World War II.
Frederic E. Davison
Frederic Davison was the first African American Army Major General and division commander who served as commander of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War.
He was commissioned as a Second lieutenant in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in March 1939. He was called to active duty in March 1941, first serving as a platoon leader in the segregated 92nd Infantry Division. In September 1943, he took command of Company H, 366th Infantry. For the remainder of World War II, he served in various roles ending the war commanding Company B, 1st Battalion, 371st Infantry Regiment.
Davison was placed on inactive duty in March of 1946. However, he was recalled to active duty in August 1947 and given command of Company D, 1st Battalion, 365th Infantry Regiment. In April 1952, he was deployed to West Germany, where he served as operations officer and then executive officer. He attended Command and General Staff College in 1954 and War College in 1962.
In September 1968, he was promoted to Brigadier general, becoming only the second African American to achieve this rank. Less than three years later, in April 1971, he was promoted to Major General. By May 1972, he took command of the 8th Infantry Division, becoming the first African American division commander. His final assignment began in November 1973 as commander of the Washington Military District. He retired from the Army in 1974 after 35 years and became an executive assistant at Howard University until 1985, when he retired from that position.
Each of these examples represents a pursuit for independence. The bravery is exemplified in their determination to overcome racial prejudice and attacks to support independence not only for the black community but for all Americans. Their contributions remain an example to all of us to stand up for individual needs and the needs of others.
Today, many senior adults fear the loss of independence more than they do death. Independence continues to be a priority, and one that home care can play a part. In partnership with Veterans Care Coordination, home care agencies can work with Veterans and surviving spouses to help them keep their independence by allowing them to age in the place they call home. The Pension with Aid and Attendance is a lifetime benefit available to low-income wartime Veterans and surviving spouses. It opens the opportunity for home care which otherwise would not be available. Giving a gift of independence is demonstrated by each of these brave soldiers, and one we can continue by giving the gift of independence to our aging population.