Veterans and public officials from across the state gathered at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh to celebrate the 2nd Annual African American Veterans Lineage Day, Feb. 13. For active duty service members, their families, students and other North Carolinians, the occasion was both a chance to celebrate the dedication of the state’s military community as well as learn about the important role black North Carolinians played in breaking color barriers in the service.
“We have a duty to preserve this history for future generations, so that sense of purpose and dedication is not lost on us as a state,” said Larry D. Hall, North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NCDMVA) secretary. “These citizens have an important story to tell, and it matters just as much today as it did in those previous decades.”
Originally organized in 2019 by the NCDMVA, African American Veteran Lineage Day was first conceived as a memorial event to honor black service members who helped to break the color barrier in the Armed Forces. This year’s event included a panel discussion with high ranking active and retired military officials, and a ceremonial presentation of awards to black N.C. veterans who served when the military was still segregated or very newly integrated.
The day’s program began with a panel discussion featuring Hall, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Walter Gaskin, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett, commanding general, Special Forces Command, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson and retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gordon Bray. Much of the message centered on the fact that many of those being celebrated were willing to risk their lives at a time when they were denied many of the rights and freedoms they were fighting for.
“In the United States today, you can be anything you want to be. A general, a cabinet secretary, a business owner,” said Garrett. “All you need for success is vision, hard work and a little bit of luck. That’s why I am grateful for those who came before me, so that I can have the career I have today.”
During the presentation of awards, Garrett and Hall provided brief remarks before honorees were individually recognized by master of ceremonies, Deborah Noel. Garrett and Hall awarded roughly two dozen African American veterans with the NCDMVA African American Lineage Medal of Distinction, a new award for this year’s event.
Recipients included longtime legislator and civil rights hero Sen. Mickey Michaux, Rep. Nasif Majeed, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, former General Assembly Sergeant at Arms Toussaint Avent and 99-year-old Elizabeth Baker, one of the oldest living black women to serve.
Several awards, including the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, were presented from the Governor to veterans posthumously.
Many of the honorees were Montford Point Marines, the first black Marine unit, who trained at Montford Point for WWII, even though Paris Island was less than 200 miles away. In attendance also were the Buffalo Soldiers, the all-black Army regiments established by Congress after the Civil War.
“The enemy doesn’t care about the color of your skin . . . we have to remember those who fought for the right for us to fight to defend rights,” said Gaskin.