Thursday, September 15, 2016

History notes …

Hello again, history mate. Hope you've had a good summer. I'm excited that Embattled Freedom, my nonfiction book about a fugitive-slave enclave in Northeastern Pennsylvania, is on track for release by the end of the year. I'm in the midst of developing a related educational website, and soon hope to make advance book orders available. And I've already got one talk scheduled, in Scranton.
Meanwhile, here are two new history nuggets for your edification: 
" 'Proper' Racial Awareness."  I've just finished reading a book titled Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, at Home and at War. It recalls the black GIs' horrific Jim Crow treatment at Army training camps--and then their delight at being embraced by British villagers during their months in Britain mobilizing for the 1944 Normandy invasion. The stories are remarkable. Having no inbred racism, the rural Brits took a liking to the black men's good manners and invited them in for meals and fellowship. The girls freely sought them out as dance partners. Restaurants and pubs welcomed them, too--and white Yanks who tried to oust them might find themselves ousted by the owners instead. "To white American soldiers, usually from the South, the lack of 'proper' racial awareness in Britain was appalling," writes author Linda Hervieux. When D-Day came, the black troops distinguished themselves under fire as handlers of the barrage balloons that protected the Normandy beaches. Back home, though, they found attitudes unchanged. A Philadelphia GI said the first words they heard upon arriving back at camp in Georgia were: "Here comes that nigger group. Got all them medals over there in France. We're gonna make sure that we take care of them while they're down here."
"Odiferously" Maligned. That untold WWII story reminded me of the vicious attitude that a Scranton newspaper expressed toward black soldiers during the Civil War. A dozen black men from the nearby fugitive enclave had already volunteered to serve, but the reactionary Lackawanna Register predicted nothing but doom. It warned white soldiers not to fight alongside blacks, "for if you get killed, some African gentlkeman, in his long tall blue, make take your widow or marry your sweetheart for you. It will be pleasant to die on the field of battle, knowing this is the best government the sun ever shone upon; and that for the life you gave up, some darkey will come in your place to warm his shins at your fire, to sleep in your bed, to eat at your table, to ride in your carriage, to father your children, and to shine as odiferously in your mansion in a rotten mackerel."
I trust we've come a ways from there, at least in our public discourse. In any event, the Civil War's 180,000 soldiers and sailors of color ultimately served with distinction and earned praise from many white comrades. In fact, six of the soldiers I write about were in a battlefield victory so heroic that it's depicted in a painting at West Point. Here it is, below and attached.

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