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A List and Photo Gallery of Prominent African Americas Who Served in the U.S. Military


Robert Fikes, Jr., Librarian

San Diego State University

Aside from the often-cited heroes and generals---Charles Young, Benjamin O. Davis, Dorie Miller, Colin Powell, and Chappie James to name but a few---there have been numerous persons of African descent who have served in the military during times of war and peace who are far better known for their success in other endeavors, many of these having served with considerable distinction. Prior to the volunteer military of recent decades, military service was a more common experience, particularly during wartime. Mainly what inspired this list was the assumption that the military background of some of the best known African American writers, politicians, artist, scholars, entertainers, and scientists has escaped the consciousness of Americans who would probably be surprised to learn of their contributions to the nation's defense. Each person listed has the highest rank achieved (NCO or non-commissioned officer includes privates, corporals, sergeants, and various specialty ranks below lieutenant), service branch (World War II-era air force men are designated Army), and years the person served which in some instances includes time spent in the Reserves or National Guard. Red symbols denote the following:

*served in an overseas war zone

+awarded the Silver Star

=awarded the Bronze Star

^awarded the Purple Heart

~awarded the Croix de Guerre

At the end of the list are photos of many of those listed shown in military uniform.

Name Rank Service Branch Years Served

Ralph Abernathy, civil rights activist Sergeant Army 1944-1945*

Cannonball Adderley, jazz saxophonist NCO Army 1950-1954*

Samuel Allen, poet Lieutenant Army 1942-1946

Clifford Alexander, Secretary of the Army NCO Army 1958-1959

Carl Anderson, singer-actor NCO Air Force 1963-1964

Michael P. Anderson, astronaut Colonel Army 1981-2003

Arthur Ashe, Tennis star Lieutenant Army 1966-1969

James Avery, actor NCO Navy 1966-1970*

Roy Ayers, jazz-soul musician-composer NCO Army 1958-1961

Dusty Baker, baseball star and coach NCO Marines 1969-1975

Ernie Banks, baseball star NCO Army 1951-1953

Amiri Baraka (AKA LeRoi Jones) writer Sergeant Air Force 1954-1956

Elgin Baylor, basketball star-executive Private Army 1958-1962 ?

Romare Bearden, artist Sergeant Army 1942-1945

Derrick Bell, legal scholar Lieutenant Air Force 1952-1954*

Harry Belafonte, singer-actor NCO Navy 1943-1945

Lerone Bennett, journalist-historian Sergeant Army 1951-1952

John Biggers, artist NCO Navy 1943-1945

Andrew Billingsley, scholar-administrator Sergeant Army 1944-1946

Allison Blakely, historian Captain Army 1966-1968

Bobby "Blue" Bland, blues singer NCO Army 1952-1955

Guion Bluford, astronaut Colonel Air Force 1964-1993*

Charles Bolden, astronaut-NASA Adm. General Marines 1968-2004*

Robert Bragg, physicist-educator Lieutenant Army 1942-1946*

Brumsic Brandon, artist-cartoonist Sergeant Army 1950-1952

Wiley Branton, civil rights attorney Sergeant Army 1943-1946*

Andrew Brimmer, economist Sergeant Army 1945-1946

Lonnie Bristow, physician-administrator NCO Navy 1949-1950

Randolph Bromery, university chancellor Lieutenant Army 1943-1945*

Edward Brooke, U.S. Senator Captain Army 1941-1946*=

Drew Bundini Brown, boxing trainer Messboy Navy 1941

Lloyd Brown, author-Communist activist Sergeant Army 1942-1945

Oscar Brown Jr., singer-songwriter-activist NCO Army 1946-1948

Ron Brown, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Captain Army 1962-1967

Tony Brown, broadcast journalist-dean Corporal Army 1953-1955

Ed Bullins, playwright NCO Navy 1952-1955

Rod Carew, baseball star NCO Marines 1963-1969?

Ruben “Huricane” Carter, boxer NCO Army 1954-1956

James Cheek, Howard University president NCO Air Force 1950-1951

John Henrik Clarke, Pan Africanist writer Sergeant Army 1941-1945

Bill Clay, Missouri Congressman NCO Army 1953-1955

Roberto Clemente, baseball star NCO Marines 1958-1959

William T. Coleman, Sec. of Transportation Counsel Army 1942-1944

Honi Coles, tap dancer NCO Army 1943-1945

John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist NCO Navy 1945-1946

John Conyers, Michigan Congressman Lieutenant Army 1948-1957*

Don Cornelius, TV show host NCO Marines 1954-1955

Bill Cosby, comedian NCO Navy 1956-1960

Harold Cruse, social critic-professor NCO Army 1941-1945*

Terence Trent D'Arby, singer-songwiter NCO Army 1981-1983

Ossie Davis, actor NCO Army 1942-1945*

Sammy Davis Jr., entertainer NCO Army 1942-1945

William L. Dawson, Illinois Congressman Lieutenant Army 1917-1918*

Roy DeCarava, photographer NCO Army 1942-1943

Martin R. Delany, abolitionist Major Army 1865

Ron Dellums, California Congressman NCO Marines 1954-1956

Lawrence Dennis, right wing author Lieutenant Army 1917-1919*

Charles Diggs, Michigan Congressman Lieutenant Army 1943-1945

David Dinkins, Mayor of New York NCO Marines 1945-1946

Julian Dixon, California Congressman Sergeant Army 1957-1960

Larry Doby, baseball pioneer NCO Navy 1943-1946*

Howard Dodson, poet-playwright-novelist NCO Navy 1940-1942

Aaron Douglas, artist Corporal Army 1917-1918

Henry Dumas, poet NCO Air Force 1953-1957

Clifton Dummett, dentist-educator Colonel Air Force 1955-1957

Christopher Edley Sr., UNCF president Sergeant Army 1946-1947 and 1950-1951

James Edwards, pioneering actor NCO Army 1943-1945

Lee Elder, golf pro NCO Army 1959-1961

Lonne Elder, playwright NCO Army 1952-1953

Joycelyn Elders, U.S. Surgeon General Lieutenant Army 1953-1956

Mercer Ellington, jazz band leader NCO Army 1943-1945

Charles Evers, civil rights activist-major Sergeant Army 1940-1946*

Medgar Evers, civil rights activist Sergeant Army 1943-1945*

Ronald Fair, novelist NCO Navy 1950-1953

Leon Forrest, novelist NCO Army 1960-1962

James Forman, civil right activist NCO Air Force 1947-1951

Norman Francis, university president NCO Army 1955-1957

Al Freeman Jr., actor NCO Air Force 1951-1954

Morgan Freeman, actor NCO Air Force 1955-1959

Charles Fuller, playwright NCO Army 1959-1962

Ernest Gaines, novelist NCO Army 1953-1955

A. G. Gaston, business pioneer Sergeant Army 1910-1918*

Marvin Gaye, R&B singer NCO Air Force 1957

Addison Gayle, literary critic-professor NCO Air Force 1950

Kenneth Gibson, Mayor of Newark NCO Army 1950-1958

Sam Gilliam, artist NCO Army 1956-1958

Donald Goines, novelist NCO Air Force 1952-1955*

Wilson Goode, Mayor of Philadelphia Captain Army 1961-1963

Berry Gordy, songwriter-record producer NCO Army 1951-1953*

Meredith Gourdine, engineer-physicist Ensign Navy 1953-1955

Stedman Graham, businessman Lieutenant? Army 1974-1978

Earl G. Graves, Black Enterprise publisher Captain Army 1958-1960

Sam Greenlee, novelist Lieutenant Army 1952-1954

Dick Gregory, comedian-author NCO Army 1954-1956

Frederick Gregory, astronaut Colonel Air Force 1964-1993*

Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, football star NCO Army 1957-1958

Robert Guillaume, actor NCO Army 1945-1946

Moses Gunn, actor NCO Army 1954-1957

Ken Hamblin, conservative talk show host NCO Army 1957-1960

Charles V. Hamilton, political scientist Private Army 1948-1949

Alex Haley, writer NCO Coast Guard 1939-1959

Vincent Harding, historian NCO Army 1953-1955

Lloyd Haynes, actor Commander Marines/Navy 1953-1964

Ragan Henry, media mogul NCO Army 1957-1959

Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist NCO Army 1965-1967

Jesse Hill, publisher-social activist NCO Army 1952-1954*

Asa Hilliard, educator Lieutenant Army 1955-1957

Benjamin Hooks, NAACP head Sergeant Army 1943-1945

Charles Hamilton Houston, lawyer-dean Lieutenant Army 1917-1919

Sherman Hemsley, actor NCO Air Force 1956-1960

Ernie Hudson, actor NCO Marines 1963

Reverend Ike, evangelist NCO Air Force 1956-1958

Roy Innis, civil rights activist NCO Army 1950-1952

John Jacob, National Urban League head Captain Army 1957-1965

William Jefferson, Louisiana Congressman Lieutenant Army 1969-1975

James Earl Jones, actor Lieutenant Army 1953-1955*

E. J. Josey, librarian NCO Army 1943-1946

Ulysses Kay, composer NCO Navy 1942-1945

John O. Killens, novelist Corporal Army 1942-1945

George Kirby, comedian NCO Army 1942-1945?

Etheridge Knight, poet Medic Army 1947-1951*^

Yusef Komunyakaa, poet NCO Army 1969-1970*=

Jacob Lawrence, artist NCO Coast Guard 1943-1945

Lewis Latimer, inventor Cabin Boy Navy 1863-1865*

Hughie Lee-Smith, artist NCO Army 1943-1945

David Levering Lewis, historian NCO Army 1962-1963

Henry Lewis, symphony conductor NCO Army 1954-1957

Clarence Lightener, Mayor of Raleigh, NC NCO Army 194?-1945

Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, football star NCO Marines 1949-1953

C. Eric Lincoln, religion-sociology scholar NCO Navy 1944-1945

Bruce Llewellyn, businessman Lieutenant Army 1941-1946

Rayford Logan, historian Lieutenant Army 1917-1919*

Joe Louis, boxer Sergeant Army 1942-1945

Frankie Lymon, pop singer NCO Army 1965-1967

Haki Madhubuti, poet-publisher NCO Army 1960-1963

Clarence Major, poet-novelist NCO Air Force 1953-1955

Henry Marsh, Mayor of Richmond NCO Army 1959-1961

Whitman Mayo, “Sanford and Son” actor NCO Army 1951-1953

Willie Mays, baseball star NCO Army 1952-1954

James McEachin, actor Sergeant Army 1947-1953*^+

James H. McGee, Mayor of Dayton, OH Army 1942-1945

James M. McGee, NAPFE President NCO Marines 1961-1965*

Floyd McKissick, civil rights activist Sergeant Army 1941-1944*

Clyde McPhatter, R&B singer NCO Army 1954-1956

James Meredith, civil rights pioneer NCO Air Force 1951-1960

Ralph Metcalfe, Olympian-Congressman Lieutenant Army 1943-1946

Warren F. Miller, nuclear engineer-professor Captain Army 1964-1969*=

Parren Mitchell, Maryland Congressman Lieutenant Army 1942-1946*^

Ernest Morial. Mayor of New Orleans NCO Army 1954-1956

Acel Moore, Pulitzer Prize journalist NCO Army 1959-1962

Garrett Morris, comedian-actor NCO Army 1961-1963

E. Frederic Morrow, White House aide Major Army 1942-1945

Askia Muhammad, journalist E-4 Navy 1963-1970

Albert Murray, writer Major Air Force 1943-1962

Cecil Murray, Los Angeles minister-activist Major Air Force 1951-1958*

Walter Dean Myers, novelist NCO Army 1954-1957

Ken Norton, boxer NCO Marines 1963-1967

Les Payne, journalist Captain Army 1964-1969*=

Clarence Pendleton, conservative gadfly NCO Army 1955-1957

Edward J. Perkins, ambassador-educator Sergeant Marines 1954-1958

Channing Phillips, minister-social activist Sergeant Air Force 1945-1947

Samuel Pierce, HUD Secretary NCO Army 1943-1946*

Horace Pippin, artist NCO Army 1917-1919*~^

Sterling Plump, poet-professor NCO Army 1964-1965

Alex Poinsett, writer-editor NCO Navy 1944-1947

Sidney Poitier, actor NCO Army 1941-1942

Fritz Pollard, football pioneer NCO Army 1918

Cecil Poole, federal judge Sergeant Army 1942-1946

Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State General Army 1958-1993*=^

Geronimo Pratt, Black Panther party leader NCO Army 1965-1968*^

Charley Pride, country music singer NCO Army 1956-1958

Richard Pryor, comedian NCO Army 1959-1960

Martha S. Putney, professor Lieutenant Army 1943-1946

Robin Quivers, Howard Stern’s co-host Captain Air Force 1975-1978

Dudley Randall, poet-publisher Sergeant Army 1943-1946*

William Raspberry, newspaper columnist NCO Army 1960-1962

Charles Rangel, New York Congressman Sergeant Army 1948-1952 *=^

Lou Rawls, singer Sergeant Army 1955-1958

Wilbur C. Rich, political scientist NCO Air Force 1961-1965

Max Robinson, ABC news anchor NCO Air Force 1959-1960

Randall Robinson, social activist-attorney NCO Army 1963-1965

Sugar Ray Robinson, boxer Corporal Army 1943-1944

Wilson Riles, education administrator NCO Army 1944-1947

Oscar Robinson, basketball star Pfc. Army 1960-1967

Carl Rouse, astrophysicist NCO Army 1944-1946

Carl Rowan, syndicated columnist Ensign Navy 1943-1946

Bobby Rush, Illinois Congressman NCO Army 1963-1968

Nipsey Russell, comedian-actor-poet Captain Army 1941-1945*

Raymond St. Jacques, actor NCO Air Force 1952-1956

George Schuyler, novelist Lieutenant Army 1912-1919

Wendell Scott, pioneer race car driver Corporal Army 1943-1945*

Winston Scott, astronaut-college dean Captain Navy 1972-1999

Bobby Seale, Black Panther leader NCO Air Force 1955-1959

Shaggy, reggae singer Pfc. Marines 1988-1992*

William A. Shack, anthropologist-dean NCO Coast Guard 1942-1945

Bernard Shaw, CNN news anchor Sergeant Marines 1959-1963

George Shirley, opera singer NCO Army 1956-1959

Wayne Shorter, jazz saxophonist NCO Army 1956-1958

Charlie Sifford, golf pioneer NCO Army 1943-1945*

Sinbad, comedian NCO Air Force 1979-1982

Noble Sissle, composer-bandleader NCO Army 1917-1919*

Elliott P. Skinner, historian NCO Army 1943-1946*

Jimmy Smith, jazz organist NCO Navy 1944-1945

William Gardner Smith, novelist NCO Army 1946-1948

Hugh H. Smythe. anthropologist-diplomat NCO Army 1942-1943

Thomas Sowell, conservative academic NCO Marines 1951-1953

Leon Spinks, boxer Corporal Marines 1973-1976

Louis Stokes, Ohio Congressman NCO Army 1943-1946

Carl Stokes, Mayor of Cleveland NCO Army 1945-1946

Chuck Stone, journalist Lieutenant Army 1943-1945

Percy Sutton, lawyer-politician Captain Army 1942-1945*

Woody Strode, actor-athlete NCO Army 1943?-1945

Mr. T, actor NCO Army 1971-1973?

Ice T, rap singer-actor NCO Army 1979-1983

Reece “Goose” Tatum, Harlem Globetrotter NCO Army 1943-1946

Clark Terry, jazz trumpeter NCO Navy 1942-1945

Franklin Thomas, Ford Foundation head Captain Air Force 1956-1960

Earl Thorpe, historian Corporal Army 1943-1946

Terence Todman, U.S. ambassador Lt. Army 1945-1949

Ed Towns, New York Congressman NCO Army 1956-1958

Dempsey Travis, businessman Sergeant Army 1942-1945

Quincy Troupe, writer-professor NCO Army 1961-1964

Stanley Turrentine, jazz saxophonist NCO Army 1956-1958

Gene Upshaw, football star and union head NCO Army 1967-1973

Melvin Van Peebles, filmmaker-author Lieutenant Air Force 1953-1956*

William Warfield, baritone concert singer Sergeant Army 1942-1946

Grover Washington Jr., jazz saxophonist NCO Army 1965-1967

Harold Washington, Mayor of Chicago Sergeant Air Force 1942-1945

Mike Weaver, boxer NCO Marines 1968-1971*

Togo West, U.S. Sec. of Veteran Affairs Captain Army 1965-1973

Douglas Wilder, Governor of Virginia Sergeant Army 1952-1954 *=

George Washington Williams, historian NCO Army 1865, 1867-1868

Charles White, artist Corporal Army 1944

Anthony Williams, Washington DC mayor NCO Air Force 1972-1974

Clarence Williams III, actor NCO Army 1958-1960

Eddie N. Williams, researcher-journalist Lieutenant Army 1955-1957

John A. Williams, novelist-professor NCO Army 1943-1946

Robert F. Williams, civil right activist NCO Army/Marines 1944-1946/1954-1955

Spencer Williams, Andy of "Amos'n Andy" Sergeant Army 1917-1918?

Walter Williams, economist NCO Army 1959-1961

August Wilson, playwright NCO Army 1962-1963

Demond Wilson NCO Army 1965- *^

Flip Wilson, comedian NCO Air Force 1950-1954

Lionel Wilson, Mayor of Oakland Sergeant Army 1943-1945*

William Julius Wilson, sociologist NCO Army 1958-1960

Bill Withers, singer NCO Navy 1956-1965

Howlin' Wolf, blues singer NCO Army 1941-1943

Corad Worrill, social activist NCO Army 1962-1964

Jeremiah Wright, Chicago minister Corpsman Marines/Navy 1961-1967

Nathan Wright Jr., author-educator NCO Army 1943-1945

Samuel Yette, author-educator Lieutenant Air Force 1951-1953

Coleman Young, Mayor of Detroit Lieutenant Army 1942-1946

Lester Young, saxophonist NCO Army 1944-1945

Whitney Young, civil right activist Sergeant Army 1944-1945*

Romare Bearden

Jackie Robinson

Alex Haley

Joe Louis

Jacob Lawrence

Montel Williams

David Robinson

Charles Rangel

Sidney Poitier

Martin R. Delany

Haki Madhubuti

Willie Mays

James Edwards

Arthur Ashe

James McEachin

Fritz Pollard

Jackie Robinson

Benjamin Hooks


Percy Sutton

Cecil F. Poole

Randolph Bromery

Clyde McPhatter

Morgan Freeman

Ruben "Hurricane" Carter

Les Payne

Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Rev. Cecil Murray

Martha S. Putney

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