Synopses & Reviews
A dramatic and moving tribute to the militarys unsung heroes, American Patriots tells the story of the black servicemen and women who defended American ideals on the battlefield, even as they faced racism in the ranks and segregation on the home front. Through hundreds of original interviews with veterans of every war since World War I, historic accounts, and photographs, Gail Buckley brings these heroes and their struggles to life. We meet Henry O. Flipper, who withstood silent treatment from his classmates to become the first black graduate of West Point in 1877. And World War II infantry medic Bruce M. Wright, who crawled through a minefield to shield a fallen soldier during an attack. Finally, we meet a young soldier in Vietnam, Colin Powell, who rose through the ranks to become, during the Gulf War, the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Fourteen years in the making, American Patriots is a landmark chronicle of the brave men and women whose courage and determination changed the course of American history.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -511) and index.
About the Author
Gail Lumet Buckley is a journalist and the daughter of Lena Horne. Her family history — The Hornes — became an American Masters documentary, and she narrated a documentary on black American families for PBS. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, the New York Daily News, and The New York Times. She lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. Midway through the Revolutionary War, blacks comprised 15 percent of the Continental Army-yet many nineteenth-century abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and John Greenleaf Whittier refused to celebrate July 4 as Independence Day. Consider the reasons for their refusal. Why did they, at the same time, continue to look to the Revolution for inspiration and to call for a “second revolution”?
2. By the end of the Civil War, blacks made up 10 to 12 percent of the Union Army. Describe these black fighters. Whom did they fight under? And why, then, did Lincolns War Department insist on calling the Civil War a “white mans war”? Contrast Lincolns description of the Civil War as a war about “union” with the Souths belief that it was about slavery. Which was it?
3. How did the former Confederacy bring about its own Reconstruction? Explain why General Carl Schurzs 1865 report displeased President Andrew Johnson. Evaluate how the Reconstruction benefited poor whites as well as blacks, and how black military participation paved the way to change in political and civil rights.
4. Discuss the reasons behind Congresss creation of the first permanent black units in a peacetime standing army. What did these units contribute to the “New Army”?
5. Describe how the slave system gave the military a particularly Southern mind-set. How did this affect the first blacks sent to West Point and Annapolis-particularly Henry O. Flipper and Johnson Whittaker? What lessons can we learn from Flippers story?
6. Buckley calls Southern revisionism the means by which the South “won” the peace. Examine how revisionism affected blacks in the First World War. Explain why black Americans fought under a French flag. How did their military experience affect their behavior back home?
7. World War II brought extraordinary changes in black military opportunities despite a total and enforced segregation in all branches of the service. How did civilians like Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter White of the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and members of the black press influence this change? What was FDRs contribution to these changes? What inspired blacks to fight for freedoms abroad that they did not enjoy at home? Drawing on specific examples, examine how black members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines, and the 6888 explained their own decisions.
8. Analyze President Harry Trumans decision to desegregate the military in the summer of 1948. Was he motivated by principle or by politics? How did the military respond?
9. At the start of the Korean War, the 24th Infantry was the last all-black unit in the Army. Trace its path from winning the first battle of the war, and the first Medal of Honor, to being deactivated for cowardice. Why was the 24th a scapegoat for both integrationists and segregationists? Explain how Korea-era McCarthyism affected the military career of Sergeant Edward Carter, World War II winner of the second highest military honor. How did President Clinton put Edward Carter back into history?
10. Why was the 1965 Army known as “the Kennedy Class”? Discuss Colin Powells belief in the early 1960s that the military offered the best career in America for an ambitious young black man. What happened between 1965 and 1968 that led to the “breakdown” of the U.S. Army? Examine how military changes reflected changes in American society.
11. Evaluate the all-volunteer army and the war in the Persian Gulf as antidotes to Vietnam. Compare Operation Desert Storm to the Spanish-American War. In what ways was the Gulf War historic and unique? What values and lessons instilled by the military are most applicable to civilian life? Discuss how the military, once one of the most racist institutions in America, became one of the greatest places of opportunity.