African American history professors from around the country spoke about the impact Black veterans made for equality during a UCF virtual forum on Tuesday.
"There wouldn't be a movement without Black veterans," University of Wisconsin Assistant Professor Le'trice Donaldson said.
UCF Professor Barbara Gannon said she wanted to discuss the year of immense racial tension that led to the growing awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, the argument about commemorating Confederate leaders and Black veterans' contributions in establishing equality.
Gannon and the panelists, including Donaldson, University of Southern Mississippi Professor Douglas Bristol and Augusta University Assistant Professor Holly Pinheiro, celebrated the Black contributions in the American Armed Forces.
"It helps knowing even though 2020 is hard, so were 1861, 1918, 1943, 1951, 1961, 1991, 2001 and 2008," Gannon said. "There has been a lot of difficult years in American history."
Gannon said ironically, much of African American service had an opposite reception in certain areas of the country.
"Black people are always targeted with violence; there's a long tradition," Bristol said. "But what struck me was how often black veterans were targeted, more than any other subgroup within the Black population."
Bristol explained there was a fear Black service members would now expect equality for their service, making them even more of a target.
After the World Wars, Donaldson said Black men wearing uniforms in public challenged the dehumanizing depiction of Black people.
"The Black veterans come home to the same treatment, but they were treated poorly because of their service," Gannon said. "Sometimes, they were perceived as having colorblind benefits, but we know nothing in the United States is ever colorblind."
Pinheiro said history is relevant as ever in recent years, as certain parts of the country experienced a massive backlash to the desire to remove the commemorative memorials to the Confederacy.
"Some interpret the growing demands for the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials as personal attacks on their supposed heritage," Pinheiro said. "Within its contentious climate, the Civil War and the history of Black people was thrust to the forefront of the national conversation."
The panelists spoke about the preferential treatment European immigrants received over African Americans and how this showed fierce anti-Black sentiment instead of patriotism.
"The creation of whiteness and the importance of self-defense, it's important to push back against the idea African Americans were victims of slavery, and Jim Crow, they freed themselves," Donaldson said. "They are active in the narratives that shaped their history."
Brandon Kirk, junior history major and audience member, said he found the presentation very enlightening and was impressed with the strides African Americans were able to make within the military.
Donaldson said the mainstream depiction of African Americans as predominantly non-violent activists belittles all the crucial sacrifices made by armed African Americans to be assured of continued momentum and security.
"When thinking about how African Americans in the Black self-defense movement armed is downplayed, and non-violence is the center of the civil rights movement," Donaldson said. "Historically speaking, African Americans have always geared towards armed self-defense and militancy in pushing back and fighting for their liberation."