As a young lieutenant in 1969, Fred Black was one of a handful of African-American officers at Fort Bragg. He said racial tensions rarely came to a head on post, but black soldiers could face discrimination when they ventured into the wider community.
He recalled being on a funeral detail in a small town near Asheboro. His sergeant, who was white, was first out of the van. He was welcomed by the minister in the church parking lot.
"So, the rest of us get out of the van," recalled Black. "Of my six soldiers, four were black. I was black. And he looks. I go over to him and I say, 'is there a problem?'"
The minister replied, "You're not doing any funeral here, because no black people are touching that casket."
Black ordered his men back on the van.
They drove to a pay phone to report "services were declined," before heading home. Black remembers the sergeant was the only one to break the silence during the hour-long journey, saying, "'Sir, that's really messed up.'"
Though the incident was a painful reminder of the prejudice black troops in that era could face, Black said it was an eye-opening experience for his soldiers.
"The whole thing in a segregated army in WWII was soldiers feeling like they had to fight for the right to fight," said Black. "And now you've got to fight for the right to bury someone, because of some bigot who says this isn't going to happen?"
As for the other soldiers, "They did what troops do: go to sleep. They didn't say a word."
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email email@example.com.