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“Never-Failing Fount of Loyalty and Patriotism”: Perspectives on African Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces

Posted on 12/14/2015

The current release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes three important perspectives on African Americans in the armed forces. John Henry Paynter writes of being a cabin-boy in the U.S. Navy and seeing much of the world in the late-19th century; Theophilus Gould Steward, himself a Buffalo Soldier, explores the role of African Americans in American military conflicts from the Revolution to the Spanish-American War; and Kelly Miller presents an account of the contributions of African Americans in World War I.

Joining the Navy: Abroad with Uncle Sam (1895)

By John Henry Paynter

I believe that the public generally desires to be informed somewhat of the personal history of the author whose work engages their attention; in deference to that impression I may say briefly that I was born at New Castle, Delaware, on the 15th of February, 1862, in the house where my paternal grandmother now lives. My father came to Washington…in 1858…having been given a place under the government. My mother, whom I do not remember, survived but a little while the birth of my sister, who in turn after a few brief months followed her into the angel land.

Five months after enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Paynter was discharged for his “occasional unwitting falling off from discipline.” After attending college, he returned, re-enlisting as steward and cabin-boy. In this illustrated memoir, Paynter provides image of many foreign sights seen along the way, including the Rock of Gibraltar, a bullfight in Spain, and a Buddhist temple. He describes in detail his travels to Singapore, Nagasaki, Mozambique, down the coast of Madagascar, around the Cape of Good Hope, and eventually to Cape Hatteras.

The Colored Regulars in the United States Army (1904)

By Theophilus Gould Steward

Theophilus Gould Steward was born a freeman in New Jersey in 1843.  Ordained in 1863, Steward assisted in organizing the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and Georgia. In 1881 he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Wilberforce University, and ten years later he joined the 25th U.S. Colored Infantry, serving as its chaplain until 1907. After his military service, which included deployments to Cuba and the Philippines, Steward returned to Wilberforce University where he taught history, French, and logic.

Steward’s extensive history of African American soldiers includes chapters on the social history of African Americans in the North and South as well as of Africans living in the British territories in Caribbean. Steward also includes a chapter on Spanish history to provide context to the chapters on the war with Spain. Also, unlike most military histories, Steward introduces his work by comparing the writing of history with the art of painting:

Facts and dates are to history what color and proportion are to painting. Employed by genius, color and form combine in a language that speaks to the soul, giving pleasure and instruction to the beholder; so the facts and dates occurring along the pathway of the people, when gathered and arranged by labor and care, assume a voice and a power which they have not otherwise. As these facts express the thoughts and feelings, and the growth, of a people, they become the language in which that people writes its history, and the work of the historian is to read and interpret this history for the benefit of his fellow man.

His chapters on military history allow readers to easily visualize troop movements and positions. Describing the rescue of the Rough Riders, Steward writes:

…although the Rough Riders were advancing heroically, they were now in a very serious situation, with an exceedingly heavy and effective fire striking them in front, and a heavy, enfilading fire raking them from the right. Their whole strength was on the line, and these two fires must have reduced their effectiveness with great rapidity had it kept up, the Spanish having their range and firing by well-directed volleys. It was for the regiment a moment of the utmost peril. Had they been alone they must have perished.

Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights (1919)

By Kelly Miller

Also found in this release is an additional work by Kelly Miller who was highlighted in the November release of Black Authors, 1556-1921. The publisher introduces Miller’s work this way:

This treatise will set forth the black man’s part in the world’s war with the logical sequence of facts and brilliant power of statement for which the author is famous. The mere announcement that the author of Race Adjustment, Out of the House of Bondage, and The Disgrace of Democracy is to present a history of the Negro in the great world conflict, is sufficient to arouse expectancy among the wide circle of readers who eagerly await anything that flows from his pen.

In this treatise, Professor Miller will trace briefly, but with consuming interest, the relation of the Negro to the great wars of the past. He will point out the never-failing fount of loyalty and patriotism which characterizes the black man’s nature, and will show that the Negro has never been a hireling, but has always been characterized by that moral energy which actuates all true heroism.

The conduct of the Negro in the present struggle will be set forth with a brilliant and pointed pen.

Miller’s History of the World War is particularly notable for the “wonderful array of striking pictures made from recent official photographs, illustrating and describing the new and awful devices used in the horrible methods of modern warfare, together with remarkable pictures of the negro in action in both army and navy.”






Kelly Miller’s summary of the cause of World War I, written in 1919, is not only an example of his pointedness but also a chilling portent to today’s readers:

…the World War…swept nations into the most significant bitter struggle in all history, the fight was against the Imperial Government of Germany, by men and nations who claim that humanity the world over has rights that must be observed.

Germany has brought upon herself the destruction of her government by ruthlessly trampling upon her neighbors and assuming that ‘might is right.’

The Imperial Government…was suffering from an exaggerated ego. Her trouble was psychological. The men who study the strange workings and twists of the human mind which land some men in the institutions for the criminally insane, agree that when any man becomes obsessed with an idea…to the exclusion of all else, he loses his balance and develops and obliquity of view which makes him a dangerous creature.

Germany was obsessed with the spirit of militarism and almost everything else had been sacrificed to this idol.

For more information about Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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