TSL Women’s History Month in Focus: Black Women in the Military

This is part of The Shadow League’s Women’s History Month In Focus series celebrating excellence in sports, entertainment and culture.


As has been the critique of the recent hit film Hidden Figures, American history is inundated with infinite examples of bravery and courage from Black women being intentionally left out of the history books. The fact that we have to consistently backtrack through time to right historical omissions is not only the result of America’s racism, but sexism as well.

They endured physical discomfort and personal criticism, while many of their contributions were unrecognized and unrewarded. They placed themselves in dangers path offering their abilities and strengths to preserve values and ensure freedom, wrote S.A. Sheafer in the book Women in Americas Wars.

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As was mentioned in the New York Daily News story, and has been discussed in passing intermittently throughout history, the promise of freedom was often what inspired some Black women in Colonial America to serve as spies. Others disguised themselves as men and fought side by side with blue coats against the British.

But the Civil War exploits of Cathay Williams, who disguised herself as a man and served as a Buffalo Soldier, are a little more well known, but no less amazing. She would die impoverished and stricken with diabetes after being denied disability for her military service.

Also, there are Harriet Tubman’s exploits as a Union spy, volunteer nurse and scout. She was a real life superhero! But as amazing Tubman’s exploits are, there are thousand of other heroes who have been expunged from history.

Today, Black women make up 31 percent of an estimated 170,000 enlisted women.

Lt. Phoebe Jeter is the only woman officer to shoot down multiple Iraqi Scud missiles during Operation Desert Storm.U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Michele Howard, the first Black woman to command a Navy combat vessel, was noted as being involved in the rescue of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama’s Captain Phillips from Somali pirates.

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And there are many, many others still, like Maj. Shawna R. Kimbrell, the first African-American female fighter pilot in the Air Force. She is one of only 70 woman fighter pilots.

As was the case during our country’s infancy, as it struggles through its “teenage” dysfunctional years, the historic record that houses the exploits and bravery under fire exhibited by Black women in the United States military will expand indefinitely toward the horizons of the future and beyond.

Meanwhile, the country they have risked, and lost, life and limb for is barely lukewarm on true citizenship for African Americans and is by the misogyny of white males.

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Recent revelations regarding the sexual violence that women who serve today face becomes even more troubling when applied to the very same military that birthed these examples of Black woman heroics.

Add to that the examples of institutional racism that are embedded in America’s armed forces and the fact that some are even able to serve at all is amazing.

In society, Black women have been the burden-bearers, but the military has become a virtual encyclopedia of Black women who have risen in rank and performed admirably when the time arose. This, despite all the barriers and hindrances to their growth and success.

But, isn’t that just like a Black woman? Indeed.

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