The National Society of Blackjacks
The high school auxiliary of Pershing Rifles, the National Society of Blackjacks is a leadership program based on the philosophy General of the Armies John J. Pershing developed while he was the Professor of Military Science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. It is an overlay, self-contained program that provides opportunities for the young leaders to train in teamwork and to achieve immediate results through the use of precision drill and ceremony.
Blackjacks follow the National Society of Pershing Rifles traits of outstanding traits of leadership, military science, military bearing, and discipline in the framework of a military oriented, fraternal organization. These characteristics are also highly desirable of all good citizens. The Blackjacks are the proud keepers of this legacy and were established as program at the High School level in 1967. Although the program is open to and welcome all, it especially focus on ‘at risk youth’ and the need for after school programs that provide positive role models and alternatives so that every child has a chance to succeed.
The symbols of Blackjacks are:
- Official Colors – Yellow gold and black are the official colors of Blackjacks. Yellow, the US Cavalry branch color, is symbolic of General of the Armies John J. Pershing’s service as a cavalry officer. Black represents General Pershing’s nickname of “Blackjack” as well as his self-control and discipline.
- Coat of Arms – The shield, crossed sabers and torch design with “B” and “J” had been used by the Blackjacks since its founding in 1967. Many of elements of this symbol are similar to that of the Pershing Rifles Coat of Arms. The official Blackjacks coat of arms consists of the shield, crossed sabers and torch with the inscription “Blackjacks” and the founding date “1967.”
- Shield – represents the readiness of the Blackjack to meet any situation. The color black signifies wisdom, self-control and discipline.
- Crossed sabers – are the symbol of the US Cavalry branch and form a chevron, which has been noted as an emblem of service and of helping one another, here representing the spirit of friendship and the cooperative efforts of members in service to their fellow Blackjacks and community.
- Torch – represents the values inherent to the National Society of Blackjacks. First, in its entirety, the torch stands for indomitable leadership embodying both the dutiful following of instructions, like true soldiers, and the intelligent issuance of command. It stands also for the eternal flame of true friendship, a fundamental quality inherent within the Society. The Torch also denotes scholarship and knowledge.
- Membership Ribbon – The Membership Ribbon, adopted by the National Society of Blackjacks in 1967, is similar to the Pershing Rifles membership ribbon and denotes exemplary conduct at all times. It is worn on the left breast of the uniform. The six yellow stripes on the membership ribbon, from the wearer’s right to left stand for;
- Membership Shoulder Cord (Fourragère) – The yellow and black Shoulder Cord is a symbol of honor bestowed to the Blackjacks member and is to be worn on the left shoulder.
- Official Flower – The Yellow Rose. Traditionally, this flower represents friendship. The yellow rose symbolizes the Calvary service of the Society’s patron, General of the Armies John Joseph Pershing, who is the role model for the National Society of Blackjacks.
- Company A-1, BSA/Venture Crew Six, Tremont City, Ohio
- Company A-4, Camden Military Academy,Camden, South Carolina
- Company A-8, Southold Navy JROTC Units (Southold HS, Mattituck HS and Greenport HS), Southold, New York
- Company B-8, Brentwood Air Force JROTC unit in Brentwood, New York
- Company C-8, Westbury Navy JROTC unit, Westbury, New York
- Company D-8, Riverhead Navy JROTC unit in Riverhead, New York
- Company E-8, Aviation High School Air Force JROTC, Long Island City, New York
- Company F-8, William Floyd High School Navy JROTC, Mastic Beach, New York
Inactive Blackjack Units
- Blackjacks National Headquarters, Central Missouri State College, Warrensburg, MO; Clemson University, Clemson, SC
- Company B-1, Wooster High School, Wooster Ohio (Sponsor P/R Co D-1 University of Akron)
- Company C-1, Grove City High School, Grove City, Ohio (Sponsor P/R Co A-1 Ohio State University)
- Company A-2, Heelan High School, Sioux City, Iowa
- Company B-2, Cretin High School, St. Paul, Minnesota (Sponsor P/R Co E-2 University of Minnesota)
- Company A-4, Carol Hayes High School, Birmingham, Alabama (Sponsor P/R Co G-4 Auburn University)
- Company E-4, Beaver Creek High School, West Jefferson, North Carolina (Sponsor P/R Co L-4 North Carolina State University)
- Company A-6, Baker High School, Satsuma, Alabama (Sponsor P/R Co S-16 Stetson University)
- Company B-6, Satsuma High School, Satsuma, Alabama (Sponsor P/R Co S-16 Stetson University)
- Company A-7, William Christman High School, Independence, Missouri
- Company T-8, American Military Academy, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
- Company A-9, South High School, Denver, Colorado (Sponsor P/R 9th Regimental HQ)
- Company B-9, Logan Senior High School, Logan, Utah
- Company D-17, S.H. Rider High School, Satsuma, Alabama (Sponsor P/R Co T-17 Texas Tech University)
The National Society of Blackjacks has a twofold mission:
First to establish in Drill units throughout the United States, an elite brotherhood of cadets, trained and motivated to protect the ideals of General of the Armies John Joseph Pershing, patron of this organization. As in The National Society of Pershing Rifles, Blackjacks is a nationally affiliated organization dedicated to fostering a brotherhood and maintain a group of highly motivated and proficient individuals.
The second part of the mission of the organization is that of preparing a student for college level Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and entry into the National Society of Pershing Rifles. Blackjacks is a preparatory program for recruits into Pershing Rifles units across the nation, these units contain members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy (including the U.S. Marine Corps) ROTC programs and teaches the member the fundamentals of military procedures and conduct. When and if activated in the Pershing Rifles, the cadet receives more training in how to be a better officer, soldier and citizen. Pershing Rifles cadets tend to excel in ROTC and set the standards for others to follow.
Founded on General Pershing Birthday, September 13, 1967, the National Society of Blackjack’s National Headquarters was established at Pershing Rifles Company R-7 at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri.
William F. Kuerz was selected as the first known Blackjacks National Commander. One of the first Blackjack Companies was A-7 at William Christman High School in Independence, MO After a brief period at MacDonald County High School in Anderson, MO, Blackjacks National Headquarters moved back under the control of Pershing Rifles National Headquarters in 1976. On April 9, 1977, Blackjacks National Headquarters was moved under the control of the Pershing Rifles Fourth Regimental Headquarters at Clemson University in Clemson, SC.
From the 1980s on Blackjacks saw a decline in membership and eventually the National organization ceased to exist. In 2012, Pershing Rifles, re-established Blackjacks.
The Term “Blackjacks”
On October 1, 1892, Pershing was promoted to First lieutenant and would eventually command a troop of the 10th Cavalry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier Regiments), composed of African-American soldiers under white officers.
In June, 1897, 1LT Pershing was assigned to West Point as an assistant instructor in tactics. At West Point he was not a popular officer because the cadets felt his discipline was too strict. It was here he acquired the nickname “Black Jack“, meant to be a derogatory term based on his leadership of black soldiers. He instead wore the name proudly honoring the heroic soldiers that he led, long before the legal integration of the Army under President Truman in 1948.
After his service at West Point, he served in Cuba through the Santiago Campaign (1898), where he earned from his commander the tribute, “Pershing is the coolest man under fire I ever saw.” There, he once again led the Buffalo Soldiers and met LTC Theodore Roosevelt who would forever change Pershing’s life and the U.S. Military.
Among the black leaders on BG Pershing’s Mexican mission was Charles Young. Born in Kentucky in 1864, Young continued a military tradition started by his father, who had served in the Colored Artillery during the Civil War. Young graduated from West Point and served in military reconnaissance, intelligence and training in Haiti, the Philippines and Liberia. His first assignment with the 10th Cavalry was in 1915 as a Major. In Mexico he led the 2nd squadron against Pancho Villa’s rebels at Agua Caliente. Young became a colonel in September 1916 and commanded Fort Huachuca in 1916-17. He retired from active duty in 1919 and died in 1922. Charles Young was the first African American to achieve the rank of Colonel.