CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The story of the African-American soldier is a complex one.

Since the Revolutionary War, African-American soldiers have served a country that hasn't provided full equal rights for Black citizens.

Despite that, they haven't stopped protecting others in wars around the world.

For many Black veterans, serving has meant living in two worlds, but work is ongoing to change that.

In Franklin, Tennessee, a monument was recently unveiled to honor the contributions of Black soldiers. It's the latest in a growing number of statues dedicated to the sacrifices of these warriors.

However, for many Black veterans, no memorial can capture the mixed emotions they experienced while serving in the military.

Veteran and artist Franklin Walker served in the U.S. Army in the 1970s. He has been building a unique exhibit focusing on the Black soldier in all of America's war to try and convey the complexity of their story.

Johnny Lee Bates and Stanley Thomas, two other veterans, join with Walker in saying that wearing the uniform was both a burden and an honor. In many ways, they say it taught them all something special.

"One of the benefits that I like to take from it was music," said Thomas. "I had to listen to country-western, I had to listen to opera, I had to listen to the blues, I had to listen to everything. The military played a significant role in bringing together Blacks and whites in our nation."

The U.S. military was the first major American institution to desegregate, providing new opportunities for the first time for many African-Americans.

For a long time, the symbol of the American flag meant different things to two different Americas while other flags were flown to make another point.

"The American flag gives you a shot," said Walker. "The Confederate flag does not. The Confederate flag is a flag that dishonors me in the fact that you would keep me and people like me in bondage if they could."

So people may wonder what it takes to wear the uniform of and pledge allegiance to a nation that has not yet fulfilled its promise of equality.

"Yes, I'm still looking at it with home and promise," said Bates when asked about looking at the U.S. flag.

"After we fought for it, where else do we go? This is our land just as much as anyone else's," said Walker.