Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Veterans Legal Services is pausing today in recognition of Juneteenth, the commemoration of the Union Army’s proclamation of the end of slavery on June 19, 1865. 155 years later, we reflect on this historic moment of emancipation, which holds unique significance for the Black members of our community. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, demonstrate yet again that we must all do more to affirm the value of Black lives, reject racism, and work for change. VLS commits to doing so by continuing its work to reach marginalized veteran communities, condemning racism in all forms, lifting up the experiences of Black veterans, and working towards a more diverse board and staff. Black Americans have served in the military with distinction throughout our nation’s history. A small handful of examples include Crispus Attucks in the American Revolution, the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, Charity Adams of the Six Triple Eight— a unit comprised entirely of Black women in WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII, Colin Powell in Vietnam and as the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. the newly confirmed Air Force Chief of Staff and first Black American in history to lead a branch of the Armed Services, who spoke so powerfully about racism in “What I’m Thinking About,” a video released this month.
Civil Rights leaders like Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Medgar Evers of the Mississippi NAACP, are just two of many veterans who served bravely only to return home to be targeted with racially motivated violence. Evers survived the Battle of Normandy but was murdered after publicly demanding justice for Emmett Till. There are countless others.
Black servicemembers remain underrepresented in the military’s officer ranks and are more likely to be serving on the frontlines and sustain severe injuries that leave them facing lifelong disabilities and negative long-term health impacts. The fact that many military bases are named after Confederate leaders hurts the military’s recruitment and retention of diverse talent.
Since our country’s inception, Black and Brown people have risked their lives over and over again in defense of its democratic ideals, while having to simultaneously dispel negative stereotypes and break down innumerable barriers — both in service and at home. Today, the fastest growing demographics of our nation’s military are women and People of Color. VLS is proud to honor their service by working toward the goal of ensuring our veterans have equal access to justice. We hope that you will join us.