Each year, Black History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the contributions that African-Americans have made in all aspects of our Nation’s history, including within the armed services. Many have valiantly volunteered their lives to protect the freedoms of the citizens of a country that has not always provided them with those same freedoms. African-Americans have contributed to military life throughout the entirety of American history, serving in every conflict since the Nation’s inception. As of 2015, African-Americans made up 17% of active duty military members, more than their 13% share of the U.S. population. Many consider the first casualty of the Revolutionary War to be Crispus Attucks, a Black man shot during the Boston Massacre while protesting British oppression. During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman served as a spy for the Union Army and led troops in combat, in addition to her role helping hundreds escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. And, most recently, on January 22, 2021, Secretary Lloyd Austin became the first African-American to lead the Department of Defense.
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI), a part of the Civil Rights Division, advocates for the fair treatment of former and current military members by building a comprehensive legal support and protection network focused on serving servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The Civil Rights Division enforces certain laws that protect the rights of servicemembers, including those affecting their employment, housing, financial, voting, and disability rights. The Initiative builds upon this critical enforcement work, as well as the work of other Department components that serve the military community, by sharing information, identifying servicemember and veteran needs, and coordinating the distribution of resources. Throughout Black History Month and the rest of the year, SVI will work to utilize the powerful resources of the Civil Rights Division to ensure that African-Americans who have answered the call of duty enjoy the rights and resources that they deserve. If you have any questions about SVI’s work or have a concern specific to the civil rights of servicemembers, please visit our website at https://www.servicemembers.gov.