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the law is actually called that's rather remarkable aspect of american history that african americans though isn't on to serve a nation that was not willing to serve them in return and we explore the reasons for reasons are eligible if you're willing to put your life in the life freer country and if you could demonstrate to your sources of a weight system that you could be everybody's bit is good a soldier as he could then the whole theory of segregation as a bridge spry author tells a civil war for another ocean a war from a civil war for one of the confederate generals heard that the confederacy was planning to recruit negroes to put them into military organizations is generational letter jefferson davis saying don't do this whatever you do don't do this for god's sakes use negroes for whatever purpose you wish have been chopped would
have them put up campfires given all kinds of menial tasks but for gosh sakes do not armed and not make them soldiers because its slaves of black men can make good soldiers a whole theory of slavery is dead the whole theory of the confederacy his role so i thought so too frederick douglass realizing that same thing character as a different way in his efforts to get black men served in the union and i'll paraphrase but he said something along the lines of this once you put a uniform on a walkman given gold buttons with the ego of the united states on their arrival just put on a horse make him a soldier of the nation he
goes what are willing to risk his life no power or ian but i am the right to full citizenship the same point to different angles the military experience i thought for our three hundred years of history is unique in that it was the military they only professionally occupation the only trade in america for most of the three hundred years or a black person could show worth other than just being a tool to be used to chop cut there help raise a crop or take your kitchen it was also the only profession the only active in american society where some negroes to play back and watch other negroes go into the military kosher nation can look up
what portion and gain inspiration the lawyers are also more of the slaves here for real is the only way for long career over history where black man to become free and revolutionary period and privilege character and not only in america but in other parts of the colonial experience in in the caribbean and in south america is was what americans do only way that you can gain their freedom by serving the nation by serving our nation time warp white americans realized the dangers inherent in this because black people could serve in war and we had to give them their freedom struggle so as soon as the conflict was over and pre revolutionary times during the revolutionary war and all are through so workers says the conflict was over and we didn't need his black manpower for god's sakes get them out of the military can get them back where
they want to salute on free anymore and so they don't start thinking we actually can be as good as what but was too late and the breakthrough is not generally sure were carried so much as it was at the end of the civil war factory inform losses and mostly young men like george washington was his older brother in here and now we've already heard of the uniform is is a distinguishing mark what makes a soldier's soldier a sailor a sailor an airman am it it bonds you to a certain culture it make you differ if you should take the
opportunity to remind my memoirs or talk about this i was a young black kid growing up in new york city and i was just another kid in the tenement districts until i went to college joined our t c and i've got to inform how often the merits of me like this and different a different part of a special group and imagine in revolutionary times during pre civil war kurds on the mexican border into this so walker when they essentially black people could know property they could they couldn't own property they couldn't they couldn't vote they couldn't get a job they couldn't enter a trade school they essentially were all subsistence livers on the dole of their masters and even those who are free had great difficulty earn eleven nurse and wonderful pictures of the period an anomaly of photographs with engravings of the earlier pre photograph period of an absolutely destitute black person in rags
literally dragged into saw picture the other night is a warrior this man is and rags a very it looks like he's in rags whole visit is a personage ragamuffin and then he joins the army and in the next picture he's standing tall as china's left in his eyes of grated carrot rifle he's got the uniform on who's no longer the story is now somebody is wearing the same uniform and that's what it was all a pressure to clear a civil war korea that they should receive the same pace or work they tried to do that but it is also kurdish group to go after emotionally war after war ii control that once the blood had been shed once the sacrifices that they made promises were always kept it always get their freedom you know is it the bounties they were promised that knowledge of the bonuses a language that promise has reopened it's historic
what it said was that though we have the whole long way to go but there has never been a conflict in american history and notwithstanding the conditions of our server to their bondage or prevailing social mores our society where black men and women did not respond to respond because one they still love and believe in this country will all its faults to buy it was greater opportunity to get some more life than any other institution in american society was awful and so we have always answer the call and will always continue to secure coal and with each conflict things got a little butter things improved and that frederick douglass airliner may ultimately you cannot be denied for citizenship i think it's also this this long history that goes back to the massachusetts militia sixteen fifty two this a long military history and african american military
history a proud history i think to some extent demonstrates why the united states armed forces to this day remains perhaps the most thoroughly integrated meritorious institution americans perfect know that perfect problems real problems of color in every part of american life but the best of any other institution evidence that as chairman of the joint former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff but that was in the day when i was chairman joint chiefs of staff that i'd not did not remember the origins of my success he says it was always the question but ok if
he says that he's always pushed immigration progress change in america and in the military late in the war ii americans who had previously banned blocked from military service began a weapon that can you talk about how necessity christian welcome well when war comes on board is being shed and casualties are being experience knew really have to start looking for a mentor and by now is known that the slaves can be soldiers three black tank and the soldiers and the british were trying to recruit blacks promising their freedom so as was often the case in our history market forces and our we put a market force became an operative for purposes of strategic necessity and so to determine that they could become so huge so necessity has
always pushes the wall and into the present frankly when president truman i guess was the first one you can say who did it for purposes of necessity being pressed by the emerging post war a war to civil rights movement but there was somehow truism in what president truman did he thought it was the right thing to do that point in our nation's history the late forties the only thing comparable but not quite as rapidly in the civil war where we made all these black men in uniform but we allowed for the first time in eighteen sixty six and seven for black regiments to be creative and to remain part of the permanent regular army are there was pressure to do that but it wasn't entirely altruistic because we also need troops to go out in and settled the west and so he's proud black buffalo soldiers were out there they could not land but they were protecting land for those who could only protecting the people who are coming out michael's claims and so it has always been that necessity this that has
pushed blacks into or allow blacks into the military even know if left to their own devices the white political leaders at the time would have wooden resisted but it resisted include george washington initially a slave owner who had his own set of problems with a slave that exists in the middle of the number and who he was but he was not able to build its slave population accepted as we'll figure out whether to give them freedom after his visit this was and where he is in jersey they get people were not soldiers not quite dedicated to natural causes like thomas jefferson write and say come home and commentator on washington is got a lot invested in any any any picks made before he picks region that that may seem like a like an easy choice nowadays but you have to
remember that back in those days that was a remarkable tradition george was truly was the father of the nation because it was only a i was only a few years into our independence while we really hadn't become americans more so than say virginians are new yorkers but especially virginians and to have the homestead threat wow where you're gonna lose all of your property and your correction your title and her slight stay away from that for purposes of serving the nation was was quite remarkable thing to do for george washington and that's why deserving of the father of the nation in fact early you can now go up to eighteen sixty one when the same choice was presented to people like robert e lee and he did not serve the nation he went on to virginia served in and he did not find that the population is more important for states even though he tended not to do with slavery
when i'm in the war because new york because it's long struggled as are all cities want to restrain the british navy and washington has to stop their unease he doesn't happen and how can you talk about what it is to be a leader to try to hold him and again and have them believe in you and also gives you a second yeah general washington had an enormous challenges i'm amy had a year of cheap congress that was not really given the wherewithal to fight the war he had to lose individual states to slash call is that the war for meddling he had to traders vote for overturning a man he had no time and that you know he was not that successful in general at this point his wife has its successor earlier in his courage general was somewhat mixed and he lost more barrels anyone for what he had was a strategic vision of where we had to end up and what he also had was a commitment
a total commitment to this concept of a new nation founded in liberty and he was a natural leader and so people were willing to soldier on to stick with him to trust and to believe in humans or those darkest days of those turtle winters of late seventeenth olympics is provoke reflection of the rubble a little story we told the infantry school for kind of what a good leaders and has the the perfect definition of a leader a good leader somebody whoa who's troops will follow him or her if only out of curiosity main trust this person so much for such a leader will follow you if only the only thing we have to go on his curiosity as to where you might be taking us ah that's ability of tongue in cheek expression that certainly applies to washington he had a vision people won't fall and it was not easy in until finally
the french came to your assistance and helpless with those naval problems which you alluded to that we finally got our role which ended up your time it's a watershed moment in the nation bobby cast statement of human rights you know the declaration of independence are taking on the most remarkable documents and in the world and certainly in english language or interests and in just a few words it captures that essence an inalienable rights rights not given due by the state but by giving to give you but god so they can be they can be taken away at any purpose of the state is to secure these rights not to give them to war to tell you what you supposed to do with them but to secure
those words for you one of those race life liberty and the pursuit of happiness we hold these truths to be self evident dollars contract not proven it's self evident why the self evident people got their inalienable coverage for some remarkable than the plight of black folks in the plight of black men and the man who wrote those words thomas jefferson kept slaves the thomas jefferson novelist wrote those marvelous words and he understood these and the inconsistency of the soul because he also wrote some time later to a friend if there is a just god or to pay for this they pay for it because one a load it on the aspect of the american experience is that with respect to african americans or rhetoric has never entirely macht reality reality of life in america certainly was never greater reality that that difference that point of decoration and
fourteen years later the constitution was written when we were treated as three fifths of a human being for population purposes we are devoting with the main difference and that we find amy the civil war to get that behind us are thirteen fourteen fifteen amendment that that do a reconstruction plessy vs ferguson and it's only in the last generation where young people really starting to get this history if we get the scarlett where we've come from solving the last generation that rhetoric and the reality frank a closer for some african americans for brothers is as far apart as ever been and that's a great challenge for many in america today how we make the rhetoric reality we talk about the declaration of independence and what must that sounds like a huge black people this is a pre literate forces have bought two yeah they didn't mean that
i mean this is a new mission christians all about europeans and white folks talking white folks that i mean it wasn't hard to be in that they were confused think of this applied to them when they were held in bondage and when the constitution was written and the great compromise which produced history for scribble ins to death you've you have to realize that we all have to realize that things come in town and you have to start out with the statement of principle and that they may take a long time before the principal becomes reality some parts of the market and the case of african americans or took along to but one way that we can make that time pass quickly and demonstrate that these marvel's principles must apply to us was through the military jury has widened so important and that's why i am or more americans and especially african american should study this
history and understand how important history is one of the only institutions to demonstrate a week or two away brother sister or insane uniform carrying the same gun tying the same way killing an enemy the same way with our blog mixing in the mall of america paul says hear nothing nothing quite like watching your son or daughter the city's golf or don't think the spring to different between what her family are watching her family and perhaps most below thing you have in the world is going off to war and the potential danger than to the risk that
person in a combat role or macon back grievously injured arms and so there's a high degree of anxiety in pain than lolita loneliness while at the wallop creative of separation there are the american people over the years have shown that they can beat the warriors blowing and the yanks as they send overseas but then this all of nature the families are left behind a way for the cutback but it is painful time i've talked to many parents divorced or two of my time that bill is set so is reinvigorated me to make sure that if i ever once again have to send young people into combat but i give him every opportunity to win and come home safely well
it occurred to me in some ways tolstoy dr joe thomas jr people running to double up hundreds when the traditional instance agreed to slaves and editors can you talk about the spirit of liberty and what causes people to go on these journeys home and the end of an answer they'll once once an ideal is to turn loose of the genius of our ideals tend to be very corrosive to the existing structure we say as recently as democracy being a pro so it had in an economist's world took seventy three years to eat away at that idiot and the same thing applies in our early history affordable a slave back in
seventeen seventies to suddenly be promised freedom you know more muscle more trapped here no more i think someone tell me what to do no more being beaten or whipped freedom even though freedom for black person in those days to something quite different and freedom for a white priest the lessons from that was in credibly powerful motivation it was the only alternative to slavery me that was the plea was slain in new freedom or it might get me a peace alliance where i might pick up like smoke alarm a tree had to be an incredibly powerful motivator and the british were clever enough to have to use an initially you can religious groups even this a free him a weekend getaway and the way the only way you could get in those days are
the guys to read some other ways that move the easiest way to get it to survive the motorist for it was to show us a certain tension and not only that the human form he would be given the russians you would be reasonably well fed will report due to be part of something greater than a plantation existence you are part of the national effort and so it was it was uplifting and so many ways to get out of this horrible situation we're in it could to the devil for global much traction it gave you the proper sunlight for serving something something was a nation that might not be serving you in the proper way but nevertheless you can make a contribution to the future and so i think the motivations for service must have been what many and varied and that different levels not just get a job but i'm doing something something something more important than just the societal existence
is suppressed conservative we in nineteen eighty seven are your sex or where we our relationship is perfect it's hard for us to realize what must have been like two hundred and ten or twenty years ago where slavery resistance and people were essentially nothing more than a piece of probably extort them to be deported he kept paying attention to have the entire incentive systems to slow it down and you make sure you never took advantage is sentence and then suddenly this little or a pope comes or through serving the nation and showing a willingness to sacrifice for life of leisure and what a powerful motivator the question is what does that what does the military
teams and they're about making a tough decision theo the military is all that decisionmaking thickly if you are a combat arms off and every aspect of military life and not to show off to the soldiers will form an informant we detour people my decision that's what it's all about home to make good decisions for their life and death decision and we give young people in the military a great responsibility at a very early age learn what my son became a second lieutenant and it was a cavalry officer tank and a sign off to germany and he wrote back a one point lead and it always tanks and trucks and always troops are responsible for that today after three million dollars and more than the three four million dollars on only twenty two years old pulp and though we expect of those tanks to be maintained those troops be taking care of our young lieutenant michael powell and put a heck of a lot a responsibility on him and taught him the importance of making
decisions and so i think that his leadership training and training in making decisions in the military probably unlike any other conflict he says george george washington of course he got his military experience than in the cream or your year of a television a militia and that his early history is quite shrinking as an officer in the militia when he did out in the wilderness of those times and he was an enormously successful leahy he had some big losses during those periods but leach lost to learn more about self a moral or immoral about the professional arms odd and he became hard and i don't mean that in a negative sense but he became hard and he knew how to make difficult tough decisions so when his time came to really go up on stage for the main act
the creation of a new nation endured for it would harden over many many many years of experience in trial tribulations maybe a thousand miles of leadership now in jail or solar billion offices stock was in talks with every word you make the decision to make their decisions good leader of those leaders were able to take losses learn from the federal law has come back the next day with the same level of confidence confidence shaken and i'm a korean communicate your troops you're your confidence even after loss and really do when he wins make sure that the credit goes to those under him who are really
responsible for that when an easy get carried away with his win or her way but we're going to hear is one i think is is that once the takes of the book that takes a fair use with the successes and can communicate to lead that sense of confidence a sense of vision a sense of i know around don't stick with me follow me don't worry about the occasional say that we will overcome that will prevail be successful leader somebody with vision of confidence and he had the vision and confidence and to show terror fear troops and compassion for the trips that i will follow you anywhere if only i curious
Africans in America
Episode Number
Raw Footage
Interview with Colin Powell, Former Head of The Joint Chiefs of Staff
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Colin Powell is interviewed about the Declaration of Independence and how it applied to black people, the spirit of liberty, on blacks fighting during the Revolutionary War
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, slavery, abolition, Civil War
(c) 1998-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Duration: 0:30:36
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Chicago: “Africans in America; 102; Revolution; Interview with Colin Powell, Former Head of The Joint Chiefs of Staff,” 1998-00-00, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 4, 2024,
MLA: “Africans in America; 102; Revolution; Interview with Colin Powell, Former Head of The Joint Chiefs of Staff.” 1998-00-00. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 4, 2024. <>.
APA: Africans in America; 102; Revolution; Interview with Colin Powell, Former Head of The Joint Chiefs of Staff. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from