Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm

American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm

by Gail Lumet Buckley, David Halberstam (Foreword by)

See All Formats & Editions

A dramatic and moving tribute to the military’s unsung heroes, American Patriots tells the story of the black servicemen and women who defended American ideals on the battlefield, even as they faced racism in the ranks and segregation on the home front. Through hundreds of original interviews with veterans of every war since World War I, historic accounts,


A dramatic and moving tribute to the military’s unsung heroes, American Patriots tells the story of the black servicemen and women who defended American ideals on the battlefield, even as they faced racism in the ranks and segregation on the home front. Through hundreds of original interviews with veterans of every war since World War I, historic accounts, and photographs, Gail Buckley brings these heroes and their struggles to life. We meet Henry O. Flipper, who withstood silent treatment from his classmates to become the first black graduate of West Point in 1877. And World War II infantry medic Bruce M. Wright, who crawled through a minefield to shield a fallen soldier during an attack. Finally, we meet a young soldier in Vietnam, Colin Powell, who rose through the ranks to become, during the Gulf War, the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Fourteen years in the making, American Patriots is a landmark chronicle of the brave men and women whose courage and determination changed the course of American history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A triumphant American success story.”
—Stephen E. Ambrose

“A remarkable human drama, one of struggle, betrayal and ultimate redemption . . . Buckley has written a book to fill a significant gap in our history.”
—The New York Times

“A mine of powerful anecdotes, characters and forgotten history. You can open American Patriots practically anywhere and find yourself fascinated.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“With their blood and courage, they lift us all up. . . . A fascinating, stirring and important book.” —Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down

“A compulsive and humbling history of nobility in the face of American prejudice, and courage in the face of America’s enemies. Buckley writes with grace and authority—and an almost unearthly restraint.” —John le Carré

Ever since fugitive slave Crispus Attucks was slain in the 1770 Boston Massacre, African Americans have played an important, albeit still neglected, role in the military history of the United States. Gail Lumet Buckley, the author of the stirring family history The Hornes, spent 14 years researching this subject. Because of its emphasis on personal experience, Buckley's inspiring narrative holds a wider appeal than more academic histories of African Americans in the military.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This work complements Bernard Nalty's academically oriented history of blacks in America's wars, Strength for the Fight (1986), and Gerald Astor's narrative account, The Right to Fight (1998). Basing her account heavily on interviews and similar primary material, Buckley focuses on the particular experiences of black soldiers. She pulls no punches in describing discrimination against black soldiers, misrepresentation of their performances and denial of their achievements. But in a dominant culture that for much of its history was overtly segregated and highly racist, the pressures of necessity opened military service to blacks. It began as an individual process during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. By the end of the Civil War, the Union army counted its black soldiers in entire divisions and army corps. Black regiments, regulars and volunteers, served in the Plains Indian Wars and in the wars of empire at the century's turn. During the First World War, black troops won more credit under French colors than a segregated American Expeditionary Force would allow. Some black activists of the interwar years correspondingly turned to the revolutionary promises of Communism, playing a role in the Spanish Civil War's International Brigades, which Buckley arguably exaggerates. WWII was America's last segregated conflict. In Buckley's account the armed forces have succeeded in acknowledging past racism, while proving that liberal values like equality of treatment and opportunity are able to coexist with conservative ones like duty, honor and patriotism. (On-sale date: May 15) Forecast: Buckley, daughter of Lena Horne (and author of The Hornes), should have no trouble getting media attention on her six-city tour. Military history buffs and a broader readership interested in African-American history will turn out to buy this. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
African-American heroes take center stage in American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm by Gail Buckley, adapted for younger readers by Tonya Bolden, from the author's adult book (with the same title). The volume spotlights the role of African-Americans from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War, including Vaughn Love (who fought during the Spanish Civil War), Col. Fred V. Cherry, a POW in Vietnam, and Colin Powell, four-star general in Desert Storm. Among the women profiled: Maj. Charity Adams and Lt. Harriet Pickens, both of whom served in WWII, and Maj. Flossie Satcher, who served in Desert Storm. Direct quotes and a 16-page photo inset give the historical accounts a sense of urgency.
Library Journal
Drawing a thread from the story of her own forebears, which she spun in The Hornes: An American Family (LJ 7/86. o.p.), journalist Buckley (Vogue, Los Angeles Times) tells the stirring story of blacks in the U.S. military, both at home and abroad, from the 1770s to the 1990s. The author reviews the experiences of Crispus Attucks and his fellow blacks during the Revolutionary War, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers of the Indians Wars, the 369th Regiment (the most decorated U.S. unit of World War I), and many more. Buckley's 11 chapters portray blacks fighting in and against the U.S. military as well as against racism in the belief that they could make a difference and improve their own lives and their country's heritage by pushing it closer to its own promise of freedom. This readable, spirited story deserves a place in every U.S. history collection, as well as in the black or military collections, which will find it essential. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Buckley originally wrote Patriots for an adult audience, and this abridgment is still a deeply moving and inspiring account of the history of African Americans in the U.S. military and their unrecognized heroism in the face of overt racism. Based on years of research and primary material, the volume presents the stories of many people ignored in standard history books. The accounts of the prejudice faced by these soldiers are hard to read, but important for understanding the significance of their achievements and the role that segregation played in military history and in the larger history of this country. Understandably, the text is dense and requires a certain level of knowledge of United States history and world events. The book includes 16 pages of captioned, black-and-white photographs and/or illustrations from each war covered and an extensive bibliography. The suggested reading list is tailored for a younger audience and includes such titles as Catherine Clinton's The Black Soldier: 1492 to the Present (Houghton, 2000), which would be a valuable addition for libraries wanting subject coverage for readers who are not ready for Buckley's book. The latter volume will serve as a standard resource for older students and may well spark interest in other adult titles on related topics. Libraries would do well to own both books.-Jennifer Ralston, Harford County Public Library, Belcamp, MD Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Paring away the footnotes, considerable background detail, and many individual anecdotes, Bolden cuts Buckley’s monumental, same-titled history (2001) by about half. What remains is still a sweeping account of heroism on two fronts, as the African-Americans who fought in each of this country’s wars have done so in the face of more than two centuries of overt racial prejudice, both inside and outside the services. The author(s) begin with Crispus Attucks, end with Colin Powell, and in between track the exploits of dozens of soldiers and units, occasionally grinding the axe—"Unlike the black soldiers with whom he would ‘never submit to fight,’ [future Senator Robert C.] Byrd did not serve in the military in World War II"—but more intent on chronicling the slow, hard-won integration of the armed forces. Even in this abridged version, the tallies of names and unit numbers may hang heavy over young readers’ heads, but it will serve equally well as an update for older histories, and a gateway to the many adult-level titles on the topic. (bibliography, b&w photo section) (Nonfiction. 13-15)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.31(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Revolution

slavery and independence

I served in the Revolution, in General Washington's army. . . . I have stood in battle, where balls, like hail, were flying all around me. The man standing next to me was shot by my side-his blood spouted upon my clothes, which I wore for weeks. My nearest blood, except that which runs in my veins, was shed for liberty. My only brother was shot dead instantly in the Revolution. Liberty is dear to my heart-I cannot endure the thought, that my countrymen should be slaves.

-"Dr. Harris," a black Revolutionary veteran, in an address to the Congregational and Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Society of Francestown, New Hampshire, 1842

Crispus Attucks: The First Martyr of the Revolution

BLOODY MASSACRE," screamed the March 12, 1770, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Paul Revere's four-color illustrated broadsheet, depicting redcoats with muskets firing into a crowd of well-dressed Boston citizens. Four victims lie bloodied on the ground. One, closest to the soldiers, the only one dressed in rough seaman clothes instead of a waistcoat and three-cornered hat, lies in the center foreground in a pool of blood. "The unhappy Sufferers," Revere wrote, were "Sam'l Gray, Sam'l Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks Killed." (Revere omitted Patrick Carr, an Irish leather worker, who was also killed.) Gray was a rope maker, Maverick an apprentice joiner, Caldwell a ship's mate; the seaman Attucks, "killed on the Spot, two Balls entering his Breast," was described as "born in Framingham, but lately belonging to New Providence [the Bahamas]." The victims would lie in state in Faneuil Hall. "All the Bells tolled a solemn Peal" when they were buried together in one vault "in the middle burying-ground."2

Calling himself Michael Johnson, Attucks, the son of an African father and a Massachusetts Natick Indian mother, had spent the past twenty years at sea, having run away to escape slavery.3 Ten pounds' reward had been offered in 1750 by Deacon William Brown of Framingham for the return of "a Molatto Fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispas, 6 Feet two Inches high, short, curl'd Hair, his Knees nearer together than common: had on a light colour'd Bearskin coat."4 In port in Boston on the night of March 5, 1770, Attucks was in a King Street tavern when an alarm bell was heard from the street's British sentry. When, leading a stick- and bat-wielding gang from the tavern, he discovered that the sentry was under "attack" only from snowball-throwing boys, he and his mob immediately took the side of the boys against the "Lobster Backs"-using heavy sticks instead of snowballs. Witnesses said that Attucks, striking the first blow, caused arriving British soldiers to open fire and hit eleven civilians-five of whom, including Attucks, were killed.

At the cost of public scorn (and to cover up his cousin Samuel Adams's role in inciting riots), the Boston lawyer John Adams, a radical "Son of Liberty" who disapproved of violence, defended the British soldiers. Contradicting Paul Revere's presentation of the dead as respectable Bostonians, Adams declared that Attucks had been the leader of a "motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs."5 The merchant John Hancock also accused Attucks of provoking the so-called "Boston Massacre," but from a different point of view. "Who set the example of guns?" Hancock asked later. "Who taught the British soldier that he might be defeated? Who dared look into his eyes? I place, therefore, this Crispus Attucks in the foremost rank of the men that dared."6 The British soldiers were acquitted, but Americans won the propaganda battle. Attucks and his companions became the first popular martyrs of the Revolution.

"You will hear from Us with Astonishment," read an anonymous letter to Governor Thomas Hutchinson in 1773, which John Adams copied in his diary. "You ought to hear from Us with Horror. You are chargeable before God and Man, with our Blood- The Soldiers were but passive Instruments. . . . You acted, cooly, deliberately, with all that premeditated Malice, not against Us in particular but against the People in general. . . . You will hear further from us hereafter."7 It was signed "Crispus Attucks"-a new symbol of resistance.


On the eve of the Revolution, the black population of the British North American colonies was 500,000, out of a total population of 2,600,000.8 Only a fraction of that population went to war. Some five thousand blacks served under George Washington, and about a thousand, mostly Southern runaways, fought for George III.9 Although the percentage of the black population who served was small, by 1779 as many as one in seven members of Washington's never very large army were black. According to the historian Thomas Fleming, the Continental Line was "more integrated than any American force except the armies that fought in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars."10

The Great American "Fig Tree"

At the end of the French and Indian Wars, Britain controlled North America from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, as well as most of the West Indies. It had reached the zenith of its empire just as the colonies were beginning to have a sense of nationhood. "Cast your eyes with me a little over this globe to view the deplorable state of your fellow creatures in other countries," wrote the Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson in 1768. "In Russia, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and many parts of Germany there is no such thing as free-holders. . . . But how different is the case amongst us. We enjoy an unprecarious property, and every man may freely taste the fruits of his own labors under his vine and under his fig tree."11

The debt Britain had incurred in the Seven Years' War ensured taxation of the colonies and threatened life under the idyllic American fig tree. In British eyes, the American colonies existed only for the benefit of the mother country, but Americans saw any form of taxation as slavery. New England's objections to the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and all the other unpopular acts fueled the fires of independence. John Adams and his failed businessman cousin Samuel, leading radicals in the Continental Congress, were outspoken "Sons of Liberty," a term coined in the British Parliament in 1765 to describe American Stamp Act protestors. Samuel Adams created the Committees of Correspondence, an underground movement with branches springing up throughout New England, to encourage resistance against the British.

The fires of independence were fueled among blacks as well as whites. A Massachusetts petition of 1773 from "a Grate Number of Blacks . . . who . . . are held in a state of slavery within the bowels of a free and Christian Country" asked for freedom and "some part of the unimproved land, belonging to the province, for a settlement, that each of us may there sit down quietly under his own fig tree."12

Quaker Philadelphia was the heart of early eighteenth-century abolitionism. Massachusetts Puritans preached against slavery, but only Quakers argued for justice and equality for blacks on every level of life. In 1727, the twenty-one-year-old Philadelphia printer Benjamin Franklin started a discussion group, the Junto, in which antislavery ideals figured large. Two years later he printed, anonymously, the first of his many antislavery tracts. "A Caution and a Warning to Great Britain and Her Colonies," a pamphlet published in 1766 by a Philadelphia Quaker named Anthony Benezet, was widely circulated. "How many of those who distinguish themselves as Advocates of Liberty remain insensible," he wrote, "to the treatment of thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow men, who . . . are at this very time kept in the most deplorable state of slavery." Meanwhile, Boston's James Otis, another outspoken opponent of Britain's "Intolerable Acts," wrote: "The colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed are all men, white or black."

The upper South seemed to agree with the North that slavery would eventually be abandoned, and in the meantime ameliorated. In 1762, George Washington told his new overseer to "take all necessary and proper care of the Negroes, using them with proper humanity and discretion."13 Young Thomas Jefferson's first legislative action in the 1769 Virginia House of Burgesses was an emancipation measure.14 With so many important advocates, many believed that the new American nation would be free.

Slavery was abolished in the British Isles in 1772. The decision resulted from the suit of one slave, James Somerset, who ran away from his American master in England. Somerset's lawyer, the British abolitionist Granville Sharp, won the case by arguing that since no positive law creating slavery existed in England, it could not be practiced there. Three days after the judgment, a group of two hundred blacks "with their ladies" held a public entertainment in Westminster "to celebrate the triumph of their Brother Somerset."15 British emancipation was a major propaganda coup, but it freed only the twenty thousand-odd slaves living in Britain itself, leaving American and West Indian slavery untouched. Benjamin Franklin wrote to Anthony Benezet about the "hypocrisy" of Britain "for promoting the Guinea trade, while it piqued itself on its virtue . . . in setting free a single Negro."16

By 1774, Boston-whose port was closed until the eighteen thousand pounds of tea dumped in the harbor the previous December was paid for-was the center of abolition as well as revolution. "No country can be called free when there is one slave," wrote James Swan, a Boston merchant and Son of Liberty who had disguised himself as an Indian in the Boston Tea Party.17 "It has always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me," Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, "to fight for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have."18

In November 1774, the thirty-seven-year-old Tom Paine arrived in Philadelphia with a letter of introduction to Benjamin Franklin. Paine, a former corsetmaker's apprentice and low-level tax collector, was drawn to abolition as much by his sympathy for antigovernment politics as by his Quaker background. Franklin helped Paine become editor of The Pennsylvania Magazine, where his first published article, "African Slavery in America," appeared on March 8, 1775. "With what consistency, or decency," he wrote, could colonists "complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousand in slavery."19 Paine advocated abolition, land redistribution, and economic opportunity. Two weeks later Patrick Henry, a slave owner who called slavery "repugnant to humanity," raised the American battle cry with "Give me liberty or give me death!" America's first antislavery society met in Philadelphia on April 14, 1775. Five days later, America was at war with Britain.

Lexington and Concord

New England towns and villages had been preparing for war since the winter of 1774. Weapons and gunpowder were stored and militia and Minutemen (an elite militia in existence only since the Boston Tea Party) were armed and ready. The war began in Massachusetts, where the British were greatly outnumbered.

Boston's ever more rebellious population outnumbered Governor Thomas Gage's troops by a factor of four, and his request for more men had been rejected. In April 1775, British intelligence learned that a secret meeting in Concord of the illegal Massachusetts Congress had determined to establish an army to fight the Crown. On April 18, Gage ordered troops, under Colonel Francis Smith, to proceed to Concord to seize all weapons and ammunition as Major John Pitcairn, Smith's second in command, led an advance guard to Lexington.

American wife was supplying information to Dr. Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams's closest associate on Boston's Committee of Correspondence.20) As British soldiers left by boat across Back Bay late on the night of April 18, the Committee of Correspondence dispatch rider Paul Revere, under instructions from Warren, hung two signal lamps ("One if by land, two if by sea") in the steeple of the Old North Church. Then, having been silently rowed across the Charles under the guns of a British man-of-war, he mounted one of the fastest horses in the colony, to warn first Lexington (where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were distancing themselves from Boston and possible arrest) and then Concord that the British were coming. In Lexington, Revere, joined by another Committee of Correspondence dispatch rider, was briefly stopped by a British patrol. After supplying "information" (with a gun to his head), the printer-silversmith-revolutionary and his partner managed to break away by galloping off in opposite directions. Armed with Revere's "information," the British patrol rode back to say that at least five hundred Minutemen were waiting on Lexington Green. The several hundred British soldiers who approached the green early the next morning were probably surprised to find a motley army of seventy-seven, including boys, old men, and a slave.21

Ordering British troops not to fire, Pitcairn told the Americans to drop their weapons and disperse. Lexington's militia, led by Captain John Parker, a farmer and a veteran of the French and Indian Wars, was not eager for battle, either. But just as Parker gave the order to withdraw, a musket (American or British) flashed in the pan. There were now scattered shots from both sides. Eight Americans died and nine were wounded before the firing stopped. "O what a glorious morning is this!" said Samuel Adams, hearing the guns from his refuge near Lexington.

Prince Estabrook, a Lexington slave and member of Captain Parker's company, was one of the Americans who fought on Lexington Green that first morning of the Revolution. Later in the day other black militiamen from neighboring towns met the British at Concord, Arlington, Lincoln, and points on the road back to Boston.

According to the historian Howard Peckham, the Battle of Lexington lasted about fifteen minutes and the Battle of Concord lasted about five.22 Entering Concord without resistance at around eight a.m., Smith's men found some four hundred Minutemen waiting at North Bridge, including the Reverend William Emerson, whose grandson Ralph Waldo Emerson would write of the "rude bridge" and the "shot heard round the world." In Concord, the British fired first. Three British and two Americans were killed before the Americans retreated. Prince Estabrook, veteran of Lexington, was wounded. He was listed on the official roster of "Provincials" killed or wounded at Concord as "a Negro man"-the only victim not called "Mr."23 The American casualties were 41 wounded and 49 dead. The British counted 73 dead, 174 wounded, and 26 missing.24

There were other black militiamen defending North Bridge: Peter Salem of Framingham, who had been freed to enlist; Samuel Craft, of Newton; Caesar Ferrit and his son John, of Natick; Pompy, of Braintree; Pomp Blackman; and Prince, of Brookline (the slave of Joshua Boylston).25 The twenty-two-year-old Lemuel Haynes had marched all the way to Concord with his Connecticut militia regiment.

Haynes had just missed Lexington: his company was en route from Granville, Connecticut, when the battle broke out. But he made it to Concord, and shortly after the battle the "former indentured servant and patriot versus bruit Tyranny" wrote a poem, "The inhuman tragedy perpetrated 19th of April 1775 by a number of the British Troops under the command of Thomas Gage," signed "Lemuel a Young Mollato": "For Liberty, each Freeman Strives / As its a gift of God / And for it willing yield their Lives . . . Much better there, in Death Confin'd / than a Surviving Slave."26

What People are Saying About This

John Le Carre
A compulsive and humbling history of nobility in the face of American prejudice, and courage in the face of America's enemies. Buckley writes with grace and authority -- and an almost unearthly restraint.
Joseph Galloway
A monumental work of love and scholarship. American Patriots fills a large gap in the history of our country. Buckley documents, with great skill and heart, the contribution of black American heroes in all of our nation's wars.
—(Joseph Galloway, author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young)
Tom Brokaw
Gail Buckley has given us a powerful account of a long and shamefully overlooked part of American military history—the heroic efforts of African-Americans to serve honorably and courageously in the armed forces when they were subjected to the worst kinds of racism. The full story is at once uplifting and deeply disturbing. We should all be grateful to Gail for bringing us these stories—and to the people about whom she writes for their determined patriotism.
Mark Bowden
There is no more central thread in American history than the struggle of African-Americans to achieve freedom, equality, and dignity, and nowhere has it been more poignantly fought than in uniform. American Patriots gathers in one place the record of black American soldiers and sailors who for centuries heroically served a nation that despised them. With their courage, they lifts is all up. Buckley has written a fascinating, stirring and important book.
—(Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down)
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Gail Buckley's American Patriots unveils a forgotten but essential strand in the fabric of American history. This fine book recalls the bravery and sacrifice of black soldiers who believed in the ultimate promise of American life—and fought and died for a nation that systematically denied them that promise. American Patriots is a noble work of recovered memory.
David H. Hackworth
Gail Buckley tells a gripping story about an unsung group of American heroes and the America for which they fought, from the time of the redcoats to Saddam Hussein. In Korea and Vietnam I fought alongside the sort of warriors who make up her story. They were America's best. At last their story is told and told brilliantly. should be required reading for soldier and civilian alike.
—(Col. David H. Hackworth, author of About Face)

Meet the Author

Gail Lumet Buckley is a journalist and the daughter of Lena Horne. Her family history — The Hornes — became an American Masters documentary, and she narrated a documentary on black American families for PBS. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, the New York Daily News, and The New York Times. She lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews