African Americans in the Military: In Pictures

Images from the Prints & Photographs Division’s collections help to illustrate the sustained contributions of Black Americans to the United States through military service over the course of the nation’s history. We hope you can join us for one of two “Finding Pictures: African Americans in the Military” webinar sessions this month (details at the bottom of the post), where we will show you a range of sample images from the collections, and provide some tips for searching our online catalog to find more. The images below are a small selection representing the kinds of images we will discuss.

Nearly 200,000 Black Americans fought in the American Civil War. The image below shows Sergeant Major William L. Henderson and Hospital Steward Thomas H.S. Pennington of the 20th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment. Soldiers represented in the collections are often unidentified in the historical documentation, so we are grateful that in this case the names of these men were written on the back of the photograph, enabling us to identify them in the online catalog record description.

Sergeant Major William L. Henderson and Hospital Steward Thomas H.S. Pennington of 20th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry Regiment in uniform. Photo by William H. Leeson, between 1864 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40621

Sergeant Major William L. Henderson and Hospital Steward Thomas H.S. Pennington of 20th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry Regiment in uniform. Photo by William H. Leeson, between 1864 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40621

This photograph shows an unidentified Union soldier standing in front of a painted backdrop that features elements of a military camp, including tents, an American flag, and a group of soldiers chatting.

Unidentified African American soldier in Union artillery shell jacket and shoulder scales in front of painted backdrop showing military camp with flag. Photo from Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, between 1861 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.37532

Unidentified African American soldier in Union artillery shell jacket and shoulder scales in front of painted backdrop showing military camp with flag. Photo from Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, between 1861 and 1865. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.37532

Moving forward several decades, we can see that images of Black soldiers from World War I are also represented in the collections. This photograph of two unidentified infantry soldiers demonstrates the continued popularity of painted backdrops. Might the train in the background signal that these men are soon to be deployed?

World War I Infantry soldiers, standing in front of photographers backdrop. Photo postcard from Gladstone Collection, between 1914 and 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.11422

World War I Infantry soldiers, standing in front of photographers backdrop. Photo postcard from Gladstone Collection, between 1914 and 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.11422

Tuskegee Airmen Robert W. Williams and Ronald W. Reeves can be seen in the foreground of this photograph taken by photographer Toni Frissell at a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy in March of 1945.

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March, 1945. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1945. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13245

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March, 1945. Photo by Toni Frissell, 1945. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13245

Around the same time, Susan Baptist, a member of the Women’s Army Corps, is shown in this image operating a projector. She was responsible for showing both training films and popular movies to boost morale.

Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps, between 1940 and 1950. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.00794

Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps, between 1940 and 1950. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.00794

These are but a few of the images in the collections that relate to the history of African Americans’ service in the military. We hope you are able to join us for one of our webinar sessions to see more.

Learn More:

12 Comments

  1. Beth Sweetwater
    February 4, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    I’d like to see phots of military and civilian inventors and exemplary citizens in a book and on line as the book banning manifests to bring biographical stories to the public.

  2. Beth sweetwater
    February 4, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    Please create a book about the black men and women in military, inventors and other people who made an impact without and with recognition. In light of book banning this could wedge in the space

  3. Gladys
    February 4, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Beautiful pictures.

    Memories for eternety!!!

  4. Carolyn Rowe
    February 5, 2022 at 1:46 am

    This is wonderful. Thank you for the opportunity to explore this historical resource.

    • Melissa Lindberg
      February 7, 2022 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you for your interest in attending! I signed you up, and you should receive an email confirmation.

  5. Beth sweetwater
    February 6, 2022 at 11:22 am

    An you publish many of these and other photos in a book?

  6. Carolyn Rowe
    February 6, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    Can you schedule me for the class ono February 16th?

  7. Jean Dawson Gatewood
    February 7, 2022 at 9:56 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this information of Black History.

  8. EL Snowden
    February 15, 2022 at 6:50 pm

    I am so proud of the contributions and sacrifices made to the development and preservation of this nation. Thank you so much.

  9. Jennifer Halsey
    February 16, 2022 at 6:40 am

    What is the reason for not recording the orientations? I am at work at 1:00 pm and cannot attend.

    • Melissa Lindberg
      February 16, 2022 at 8:23 am

      Thank you for this suggestion. Now that we have a year of experience with creating webinars, we’re ready to look into the possibility of recording them and the additional resources needed to include transcriptions. Your encouragement is appreciated!

  10. Glenn Knoblock
    April 8, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Beth, there are many books out there about African American soldiers and sailors who have served throughout America’s history. Check out Black Submariners in the U.S. Navy, 1940-1975 and African American Casualties in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine in WW II, both by myself.

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