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On this date in 1917, the first Black enlistees from West Point graduated from military duty at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
The 20th century was the beginning timeline for Black advancement beyond basic enlistment in America’s armed forces. Although three Black officers had previously graduated from West Point and served bravely on the plains, doubters of the first Black officer candidate class. This included President Woodrow Wilson, who felt Blacks lacked the intelligence and courage to lead troops in combat. World War I was the initial opportunity for Black soldiers as a group to become commissioned officers in the United States Army.
Of the 1,000 Black college graduates and faculty and 250 non-commissioned officers from the 9th and 10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers" and 24th and 25th Infantry, who comprised the 17th Provisional Training Regiment at Fort Des Moines, 639 graduated as captains or lieutenants (a few are shown). After completing basic training at sites across the nation, including Camp Dodge, Iowa, they went on to lead the 92nd Division against Imperial Germany on the brutal battlefields of France in 1918.
Many Blacks who survived combat returned to America to become leaders in the battle for racial equality. Their sacrifices launched the integrated officer corps of today serving in all of America's Armed Forces.