This is a historical corrective to the premise of the alt-right movement’s cause as forwarded by Richard Spencer (in Dana Milbank’s “Trump needs to disown his neo-Nazi hangers-on.” WA Post, November 22, 2016, A2). He is quoted as saying:
“…America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
The United States has always been diverse and its minority populations have made major contributions since colonial days. There are books written chronicling this in great factual detail… (Given today’s post-truth environment, it’s important to state that these details are supported via historical documents.)
African-American contributions to us began at the earliest point in our colonial history, as have all of our minorities. A few points here:
1. From 1641-1642, a bi-racial man (African-American and European) named Matthias da Souza served in the Maryland General Assembly at St. Mary’s City, Maryland.
2. In the Revolutionary War, formerly enslaved African-Americans and Indians served in an integrated regiment known as The First Rhode Island. They fought fearlessly at the Battle of Yorktown, taking a heavily defended British fortification. This regiment was thus an important factor in the battle that led British commander General Cornwallis to surrender, ending the American Revolution. These soldiers had earlier fought in several battles in the northern colonies.
3. Jewish soldiers also fought in the American Revolution. Sadly, George Washington had to admonish his Protestant troops for harassment of fellow Jewish soldiers.
4. Of course, African-Americans fought for the Union in the Civil War. In the south, enslaved black men were sometimes required to attend to their owners, who fought to preserve slavery.
5. The contributions of African-American servicemen in both World Wars are much better known. The Tuskegee Airmen are the most famous.
6. Asian Americans have been present in our nation from the start. In the colonial era, Spanish colonial galleons had global crews, of which some were Asians who jumped ship to form the very earliest Asian American community in the vicinity of today’s New Orleans.
7. The most remarkable and humbling example of Asian American sacrifice is that of the “Fighting Nisei” in World War II. Most of these Japanese-American soldiers volunteered from internment camps. As the 442d Regimental Combat Team, US Army, they took enormous casualties in some of the bloodiest battles of the European theater. The 442d is legendary as the most highly decorated unit relative to size in our nation’s history. These brave men shame us all for racist hysteria then and now.
8. Native Americans have also served our country and continue to do so. Of all our ethnic groups, including “white,” Native Americans have served in the highest numbers proportionally. In other words, no ethnicity has contributed more of its people in defense of our nation despite its sufferings.
For example, Navaho code talkers were critical to secure communications in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Lori Piestewa was an army private killed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
These are but a few examples of the sacrifices of blood and valor made by minority heroes from the colonial period onward. They are the tip of the iceberg. We owe these heroes a debt that cannot be repaid. At the very least, we must honor their memories.
Too few Americans today even understand our history. Some of my college students thought we had fought France in the Revolution. Worse, that hazy and error laden perception is also marred by the erasure of our minority contributions.
The United States was born a diverse nation. Not just military sacrifice, but scientific, artistic, and literary achievements encompass all of the nation’s ethnic and racial groups. From the start.
The entire premise for Richard Spencer’s neo-Nazi screed is false. Our minorities have made us great for more than 400 years.