TodayA Legacy of Service
In 1991, almost 40 years after the official end of military segregation, General Colin Powell oversaw Operation Desert Storm in Iraq as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. General Powell represents a long line of Black servicemen and servicewomen pushing boundaries in the military. He inspired the next generation of Black military service members including Admiral Michelle Howard who earned the distinction of being the first Black woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Rushmore.
African American resistance to centuries of racism, violence, and double standards enabled them to climb the military ranks and assert their citizenship. On January 22, 2021, Lloyd James Austin III, a four-star general, became the first African American to serve in the position of the United States Secretary of Defense. Gen. Mark A. Milley remarked of his career, “General Austin is the only general officer in the United States military of any service who has commanded in combat at every rank as a general in the last 15 years.”