It’s odd in a family where we have military service that goes back to the earliest colonial wars that I can only find one African-American ancestor who was a member of any branch of the United States military. That was my uncle, Frederick “Freddie” Dickinson who was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 16, 1921. I knew from this photo dated 1950 that Uncle Freddie served in the Army during the Korean War.
When I researched who of my Black ancestors enlisted during World Wars I and II or the Civil War – Uncle Freddie is the only person I could find. None of my grandfathers, great-grandfathers or great-uncles served (at least not that I’ve discovered) and my father was unable to serve because of a leg disability.
Uncle Freddie enlisted in the United States Army for the duration of World War II on September 11, 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio. His rank was private. He would have served in a segregated unit because the United States military wasn’t completely integrated until after the Korean War.
I wish I had taken time to talk with Uncle Freddie when he was still alive about his time in the service. Sadly, I didn’t know back then what I know now about family history and Uncle Freddie died on February 8, 1996. If you have family members who served in the military, sit down with a recorder and capture the stories of their experience – something that will be lost forever if you don’t.
Since Uncle Freddie, members of my current family have followed in his footsteps and given distinguished military service, most notably my first cousin, Susan Bates Hippen who served in the United States Navy from 1979 to 2004. By the time of her retirement from the Navy, Susan had achieved the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer.
And currently serving in the United States Navy is my young cousin, Okpara Kelly in the picture below. Thank you for your service, Uncle Freddie, Susan and Okpara. When I combine their service with that of our White ancestors who served in the Civil War, War of 1812, Revolutionary War, French and Indian War and all the way back to King Phillip’s War in 1675 – our family’s legacy of military service in this country has spanned almost 340 years.