Black Medal of Honor Recipients
Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at the history of black Medal of Honor winners.
Since the dawn of the nation, the armed forces have included black Americans in its ranks. As early as 1652, leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony mandated that all Indians and people of African descent residing in "settled" areas enlist in a local militia. Prince Duplex, Sr. was one of nearly 300 men of African descent to enlist in the Connecticut militia during the Revolutionary War, and Oscar Marion, a slave on the South Carolina plantation of war hero General Francis Marion, fought side by side with his master, also serving as "personal assistant, bodyguard, sous-chef, bugler, courier, confidant, and oarsman." When the Medal of Honor—the nation's highest award for military valor—was established in 1861, African Americans were not excluded. In time, however, conferral of the award began to mirror the status of black Americans in general, embodying a tumultuous history that has not always been so honorable.Read full essay