Black Medal of Honor Recipients
Since the dawn of the nation, the armed forces have included black Americans in its ranks. As early as 1652, leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony mandated that all Indians and people of African descent residing in "settled" areas enlist in a local militia. Prince Duplex, Sr. was one of nearly 300 men of African descent to enlist in the Connecticut militia during the Revolutionary War, and Oscar Marion, a slave on the South Carolina plantation of war hero General Francis Marion, fought side by side with his master, also serving as "personal assistant, bodyguard, sous-chef, bugler, courier, confidant, and oarsman." When the Medal of Honor—the nation's highest award for military valor—was established in 1861, African Americans were not excluded. In time, however, conferral of the award began to mirror the status of black Americans in general, embodying a tumultuous history that has not always been so honorable.
Culled primarly from the archives of the Library of Congress, the following photoessay provides a brief glimpse of some of the 87 African Americans who earned the United States's highest honor for bravery, the Medal of Honor.