Tuesday, February 4, 2020

‘African American Soldiers in Wartime’ Symposium a Success

Keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, U.S. Army retired,
made the final presentation during the symposium Feb. 1.
A free symposium highlighting the historical contributions of African American soldiers in U.S. wars drew more than 200 people Saturday morning to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock.

“It was a great symposium” said Ricky Lattimore, a Black History Commission of Arkansas member. “I can’t say enough about the speakers – everything was very informative.”

The event, which kicked off Black History Month, was a joint effort between the Arkansas State Archives and the Black History Commission of Arkansas. Audience members were from all over the state and included military veterans from World War II to present day.

The symposium celebrated the current and historical contributions, actions, bravery and efforts of African Americans during U.S. wars. The event was recorded and will be available online and at the Arkansas State Archives in the future.

Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School students in the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) posted the colors for the symposium.
Speaker Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis presented "Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy," the regimented band that had the first African Americans to serve the modern Navy at a rank higher than messman.

Tenpenny-Lewis is a co-founder and charter member of Preservation of African American Cemeteries, a nonprofit group organized to identity, document and preserve African American cemeteries. She is a genealogist and served from 2012 to 2015 as the national president of Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society.

Carl Hines, 90, asks Brig. Gen. Dunn
a question during the symposium, which
drew many veterans interested in
Arkansas and military history.
Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch, a professor of history at Arkansas State University, spoke about her personal experiences as a military veteran of the Persian Gulf War. Her presentation, "A Debutante, a Soldier and a War Veteran," drew a standing ovation after she discussed PTSD, war and emotional impact military life has on families and individuals. She also spoke about the often-overlooked contributions and services of African American women in the military throughout American history.

Jones-Branch, who is a member of the Black History Commission of Arkansas, has accrued multiple honors and awards for her research, studies, mentoring and teaching. She has published several books, including “Crossing the Line: Women’s Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II,” and is wrapping up a book project about activism among rural black women in Arkansas between 1913 and 1965.

Keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, U. S. Army retired, made the final presentation, "African-American Services in America's Wars." Dunn discussed the historical timeline of African Americans fighting in U.S. wars, obstacles they faced and breakthroughs they made in integration and fair treatment in the military. He also discussed how African Americans’ service in the military helped break down barriers at home.

Wars Dunn covered included the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War.

Attendees waited in line to take a photo with Brig. Gen. Dunn.
Dunn is a Little Rock native and graduate of Arkansas Tech University. He was commissioned as a transportation officer in the U.S. Army in 1982. His military education includes a Master of Arts in strategic studies from the Army War College. He has served in a variety of military assignments and operations, including two tours at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.  He has served internationally and commanded soldiers from Company to General Officer level during his career. Dunn, who retired in 2014, is a decorated veteran whose awards include the Army's Distinguished Service, Defense Superior Service and the Legion of Merit awards. 

After the symposium, veterans and other audience members posed with Dunn for photographs. Lattimore said he is in “awe” of the amount of information Dunn gave during his presentation. The symposium was a success, commissioners agreed.

“I just loved it all,” Lattimore said.