Faithful and Ready: Black Service in the Ohio Army NationalGuard(Part III)

By arohmiller, posted on February 13th, 2015.
Filed under: News
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Written by: SFC Joshua Mann, Historian, Ohio Army National Guard

From the formation of the Northwest Territory Militia in 1788, until the termination of racial segregation in the Ohio National Guard in 1954 and service since, black Soldiers from Ohio have distinguished themselves in service to their country even in the face of difficult race, social and political barriers.

Reorganization of the Ohio National Guard following the war saw 2 segregated units on the rolls of the state; the 372d Infantry Battalion and the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. Although President Truman had barred racial segregation of the armed forces on July 26, 1948, the order did not affect National Guard units not in federal service. Additionally, many leaders of the 2 units made a concerted effort to keep their battalion segregated, fearing that the two-edged sword of integration would block promotions and key assignments for black Soldiers.

Officers and noncommissioned officers of the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division, look over a map while training at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1952. The all-black battalion was called into federal service in January 1952, serving two years on active duty before returning to Ohio. (Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections)

Officers and non-commissioned officers of the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division, look over a map while training at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1952. The all-black battalion was called into federal service in January 1952, serving two years on active duty before returning to Ohio. (Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections)

Brig. Gen Kenneth Cooper (right), 37th Division Artillery commanding general, presents the guidon for Headquarters Battery, 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion to Captain Grady T. Smith at Camp Perry, Ohio on 23 July 1954. The ceremony marked the return of the colors and guidons of the 37th Infantry Division from active duty.

Brig. Gen Kenneth Cooper (right), 37th Division Artillery commanding general, presents the guidon for Headquarters Battery, 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion to Captain Grady T. Smith at Camp Perry, Ohio on 23 July 1954. The ceremony marked the return of the colors and guidons of the 37th Infantry Division from active duty.

The 137th got its first taste of integration when it was ordered into federal service in January 1952 for the Korean War. It returned to Ohio in January 1954, just months before Governor Frank Lausche issued Executive Order No. 39, which fully integrated the Ohio National Guard. Both units continued, fully integrated, until a 1959 state wide reorganization that ultimately disbanded the battalions. The lineage of both organizations continues at various company level units around the state. The battalion lineage of the 372d Infantry is perpetuated today by the 237th Support Battalion, who also wears the distinctive unit insignia of the former organization.

Maj. Gen Dana Stewart, Ohio adjutant general, swears Eyvonne Turner in as the first black female in the Ohio Army National Guard in January 1973.

Maj. Gen Dana Stewart, Ohio adjutant general, swears Eyvonne Turner in as the first black female in the Ohio Army National Guard in January 1973.

Major General Richard C. Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

Major General Richard C. Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

Since integration, black Soldiers have continued to serve with great distinction in the Ohio Army National Guard. Wilbur Jones became the first black command sergeant major in 1968. Evyonne Turner was sworn in as the first black female in January 1973. And Major General Richard Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

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