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AMERICAN PATRIOTS by Gail Buckley Kirkus Star


The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm

by Gail Buckley

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50279-3
Publisher: Random House

A first-rate history of African-Americans in the military.

Journalist Buckley, daughter of singer Lena Horne, comes from a long line of soldiers who took part in the Revolution, the Indian Wars, WWI, and other conflicts throughout American history. As Buckley writes, African-Americans were generally made to feel unwelcome (if useful cannon fodder) in the military between the years of the Revolution and the Korean War, when President Truman formally integrated the armed services. Buckley begins her sweeping narrative with the black fighters of the Revolution, ignored in standard history texts but honored by the likes of Washington and Jefferson in their time for having “knocked the British about lively.” Among the other early, forgotten patriots of whom she writes is Joseph Savary, a hero of the War of 1812 who helped Andrew Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans; having been ordered not to take part in the victory parade, he angrily denounced American racism and logged time in the pirate trade with Jean Lafitte before heading south to join Simon Bolivar's army. Another is William Carney, who fought with the 55th Massachusetts (the sister regiment of the storied and bloodied 54th) and was the first black fighter to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Most of Buckley's narrative, however, is given to events of the 20th century, from WWI to the invasion of Iraq; a key figure in her text is Colin Powell, who rose through the officer corps to assume a key leadership role in the military (and is now the Secretary of State). If there is an overarching theme to Buckley's narrative, it is that military service offered African-Americans a means of improving their lives; “by helping make history,” she writes, “they fought racism” and overcame prejudices in other branches of society.

A study, Buckley writes, that was 14 years in the making—and it shows. Well-written, vigorous, and aptly titled, this deserves the widest possible readership.