Congress authorized the first Medal of Honor; then named the “Medal of Valor” on December 9th, 1861, for Navy petty officers, landsmen, and Marines that “most distinguished themselves by their gallantry.” Members of the Marines Corps and Coast Guard were eligible to receive the Navy version. The Army version of the medal was established in 1862 to recognize those who distinguished themselves in battle.
Since then, the Medal has undergone numerous legislative, design and presentation changes while still retaining what makes it truly special—its status as the United States' highest award for military valor in action.
Since the 1860s there have been over 90 African Americans awarded the Medal of Honor. Below are the stories of men who served in the Army from 1866 to 1953. These Buffalo Soldiers served during a time when the regular Army was segregated. These are their stories.
Buffalo Soldier Medal of Honor Recipients from 1866 through the Spanish American War
19 Medal of Honors have been awarded to Buffalo Soldiers from the Plains Wars through the Spanish American War. Below are biographies of all 19 Medal of Honor Recipients
African American World War One Medal of Honor Recipients
The two Medal of Honor recipients were posthumously awarded their Medal of Honors several decades after the fighting was done.
African American World War Two Medal of Honor RecipientsIn the early 1990s, the Department of Defense started to study the issue of why no African Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. It was determined that Black soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor in World War II because of their race. The report put forward a total of seven men who deserved the Medal of Honor for their actions. They were all awarded the Medal of Honor on January 13, 1997, by President Bill Clinton. Only Vernon Baker was still alive to receive his medal in person.
African American Korean War Medal of Honor RecipientsAn estimated 600,000 African Americans served in the armed forces during the Korean War (1950 to 1953). Roughly 9.3% of Americans killed in Korea were African American. Two African Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.
Black Seminole Indian Scout Medal of Honor Recipients
Black Seminole Indian Scouts from Mexico helped the Buffalo Soldiers during the Plains Wars to track other American Indian groups. These men used their knowledge of the land to effectively do their job. Four of them were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Last updated: December 6, 2022