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Speaker: Black history is American history

Black history is American history, and Lila Holley says that's especially true of military history.

Holley was featured speaker for Saturday's Black Heritage Banquet sponsored by Zeta Phi Sorority Inc. and the National Pan Hellenic Council of Lawton-Fort Sill, and she said everyone has a story worth telling and each story is important.

Holley, a combat veteran and retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 who served multiple deployments to Iraq, the Philippines and Bosnia, is eager to tell her own story. As a best-selling author she has helped other women service members and veterans tell their own stories through her Camouflaged Sisters series. 

This year's Black Heritage Month theme is "African Americans in Times of War," and Holley thinks it's an apt theme, and not just for her.

"I feel like if there was ever a theme created for us ... this was created for us," she said.

The stories of many prominent African Americans  such as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver  are well-known.

"As children they gave us home, they motivated us and they inspired us," she said.

Heroes on her list

But as she has dug through black history over the years, she's added many others to her list, like Crispus Attucks, a man of African and American Indian ancestry who was killed in the Boston Massacre and regarded as the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Many on her list are military people  Bessie Coleman, who became the first African American woman to earn an aircraft pilot's license and had to go to France to do it; Lt. Col. Shawna Kimbrell, the first African American fighter pilot; and Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, the first African American woman to reach the four-star rank in the Navy and to serve as vice chief of naval operations.

First black woman to enlist in Army

One of her favorite examples is Cathay Williams, the first black woman known to enlist in the Army. Williams, who enlisted under a man's name in 1866, served with the 38th Infantry until she was hospitalized with smallpox and the doctor discovered she was a woman. Holley said Williams was honorably discharged but denied pension and disability benefits. 

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