WASHINGTON, – African-Americans have made and continue to make major contributions to the nation’s defense, the director of the Defense Department’s office of diversity management and equal opportunity said in a recent interview.
As National African-American History Month commences today, this year’s theme — “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington” — is important for two reasons, Clarence A. Johnson told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
“The Emancipation Proclamation is 150 years old, and the March on Washington is 50 years old,” he said. “The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, but it also enhanced America’s freedom.”
Because 1963’s March on Washington precipitated the Civil Rights Act, DOD components worldwide will celebrate with those events in mind because of their contributions to diversity and freedom, Johnson said.
National African-American History Month gives people an opportunity to recognize African-Americans who have contributed to the nation’s defense, and that recognition is important, he said.
“It gives us the time to appreciate the strides we’ve made,” he added. “I think we pride ourselves in … [making] sure all our individuals are treated with equality, dignity and respect.”
As the military services observe National African-American History Month, Johnson said, there are two things to keep in mind: service and commitment. Greatness is achieved by serving others, he said, while commitment to diversity is critical to the nation and to DOD. African-Americans have long since left their mark on defending the nation since the Revolutionary War, he added.
In the American Revolution, Johnson said, 5l African-Americans served, and in the Civil War, 180,000 served. Some 35,000 African-Americans died in the Civil War, he added.
“African-Americans continue to serve and distinguish themselves in war and peacetime,” said Johnson, adding that 90 African-Americans have received the Medal of Honor. And African-Americans continue to be well represented in DOD, he added.
“Almost 18 percent of our enlisted corps is African-American,” he said. “More than 9 percent of officers are African-American. In our civilian workforce, African-Americans [make up] about 15 percent.”
Since President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order in 1948 to desegregate the services, DOD has made significant achievements, Johnson said.
“We have led the nation in maintaining and achieving an integrated workforce,” he said. “We’ve made great strides in making sure we select folks with the highest potential [and] talent to serve, and we continue to find that programs and policies DOD put in place helped us maintain our equal opportunity program to make sure that [people] achieve their maximum [capabilities].”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said that diversity is a force of the military’s strength and a key to maintaining readiness, Johnson said.
“So as we celebrate and commemorate diversity,” he added, “we are celebrating the contributions of all men and women who have contributed to the DOD mission.”
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service