The banquet for black officers of flag rank fairly glittered with stars. Seventy-six black generals and admirals—active, reserve, and retired—were being honored at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C. The date was February 26, 1982. More than two thousand people were present. The secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, gave the principal address. Perhaps predictably, the banquet received little attention in the national media. Surprisingly, however, it also received little attention in the black press.
The absence of coverage was noteworthy because the record of the U.S. military in race relations is one that deserves recognition. Some 400,000 blacks serve in an active-duty force of 2.1 million. Most of these men and women serve in the enlisted ranks, many as noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, and an increasing number can be found in the officer corps. Blacks occupy more management positions in the military than they do in business, education, journalism, government, or any other significant sector of American society. The armed services still have race problems, but these are minimal compared with the problems that exist in other institutions, public and private.
A visitor to a military installation will witness a degree and a quality of racial integration that are rarely encountered elsewhere. At many points in their terms of military service whites are sure to be commanded by black superiors. In the performance of their military duties blacks and whites typically work together with little display of racial animosity Not only do whites and blacks inhabit the same barracks but also equal treatment is the rule in such non-duty facilities as chapels, barbershops, post exchanges, movie theaters, snack bars, and swimming pools. Observation of any dining facility (as the mess hall has been renamed) reveals little informal racial separation. A rule of thumb is that the more military the environment, the more effective the integration. Interracial comity is stronger in the field than in the garrison, stronger on duty than off, and stronger on post than in the world beyond the base.