WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced today, during the first week of Black History Month, that they will introduce a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 200,000 African Americans who fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War.
Since the colonial era, African Americans have served the United States in times of war. Yet, there was resistance to enlisting African Americans to take up arms at the start of the Civil War. On May 22, 1863, the United States War Department issued General Order Number 143, which established the Bureau of Colored Troops for the recruitment and organization of regiments of the Union Army composed of African American men, called the United States Colored Troops.
By the end of the war, about 179,000 Black men served as soldiers in the Army, and another 19,000 Black men served in the Navy. Black women were not allowed to formally enlist as soldiers or sailors. They were, however, allowed to serve as nurses, cooks, spies, and scouts for the Army and the Navy.
“Despite sacrificing life and limb, hundreds of thousands of African Americans who fought for the Union in the Civil War have largely been left out of the nation’s historical memory,” Norton said. “This bill will help correct that wrong and give the descendants of those soldiers the recognition they deserve. Thank you to Senator Booker for partnering with me in this effort.”
“Though often overlooked, 200,000 Black Americans fought to save the union during the Civil War, helping end the evil institution of slavery and ensuring the United States would endure,” said Booker. “More than 150 years after the end of the war, I am proud to introduce bicameral legislation with Congresswoman Norton that would award these heroes the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their brave and selfless actions on behalf of our nation.”