Almost 60 years after the U.S. military was desegregated, soldiers of all races now serve alongside each other.
But long before the 1951 integration, African Americans were fighting to protect this country. Some of their stories are told in a recent film entitled "For Love of Liberty."
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of a cast of American icons who lends his voice to the documentary, which traces the history of America's black patriots
"I was a Black American soldier, and I followed in a long tradition Black men and women who served this nation since long before our Revolutionary War," Powell said.
It took the film's producer, Frank Martin, 10 years to complete the four hour documentary.
"A lot the folks who volunteered for this film had a connection to the story," Martin told CBN News. "Morgan Freeman for example was in the Air Force. Blair Underwood's dad was a Special Forces guy in Vietnam. Bill Cosby was in the Navy. Ice T was in the Army."
"The film in my mind graphically illustrates the price of liberty, and what someone will do in pursuit of that," he said.
What History Doesn't Teach
Letters, diaries and speeches shared in the film reveal untold, personal stories of soldiers and sacrifice.
"I would say we found virtually every scrap of film that has ever been shot, documenting black Americans serving our nation going all the way back to 1898," Martin said.
"For Love of Liberty" begins before the American Revolution. And along the journey through America's wars, it brings to life stories that have been forgotten or tucked away in places like the "Unknown and Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial", located just a few miles outside Norfolk, Va.
"The Buffalo Soldiers who fought in Italy during the Second World War when they came home, they were denied permission to have a parade through the streets of Norfolk," Martin said.
President Harry Truman signed an executive order to integrate the military in 1948. It became a reality in 1951.
"The essential question the films asks - and it is a really profound one - is why would a group of people shed their blood in defense of a nation that treated them worse than second class citizens?" Martin said.
One such "second class citizen" was Army Captain Riley Leroy Pitts, the first African American commissioned officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Captain Pitts didn't have to attack those bunkers, but he did," the documentary's narrator said. "He was more concerned with the enemy fire that was hurting us than his own safety."
It was October 31, 1967 when Pitts gave his life to protect his company as they were hammered by Vietcong machine gun fire. It was supposed to be his last day in Vietnam.
"What this man did in an hour of incredible courage will live in the history of America as long as America endures," the narrator said.
"This is a story that is really American History," Martin said. "This is a story that is relevant to all Americans because it was never really talked about. History books didn't teach it. Hollywood didn't really make movies about this kind of stuff. "
"For Love of Liberty," the four-hour documentary, is available on DVD.
--Originally aired May 31, 2010.