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African American Military Service


The explosion of the battleship USS Maine in the harbor at Havana killed 250 officers and men, 22 of them African-Americans. The disaster prompted McKinley and Congress to declare war on Spain, and Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, and Kansas organized African American volunteer units, some of which were commanded by black officers. In most regiments designated for African Americans, however, whites were assigned to the upper service grades. Protests by African Americans against this practice caused Congress to curtail the number of black regiments actually organized. Approximately 10,000 African Americans served during the Spanish-American War. The 24th Infantry participated in the charge up San Juan Hill. A black First Sargeant, George Berry, was honored at a peace celebration in the fall of 1898 for his heroic conduct in planting the colors of his regiment on the Spanish works on San Juan Hill. Black soldiers were awarded six Medals of Honor for service in the Spanish-American War.
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