Honor Them All

Flashback Summer: "A Negro Soldier" Documentary

Today I inadvertently ran across a documentary entitled "The Negro Soldier."  I discovered the documentary is a War Department film made by Frank Capra in 1944 that highlights the role of black soldiers in America's World War II efforts.  Below I've included a synopsis and some of my thoughts about it.  I know that all of this can be a sensitive subject for many people, so feel free to read what I have to say and give me your input, and please assume the best of me if something I've said is unclear or seems unkind.

Here's the documentary:

Disclaimer:  Yes, I realize this isn't a politically correct film all the time.  It's from 1944 and entitled "The Negro Soldier", come on.  However, I do think it's a good snapshot of a propaganda film of the time, remembering that oftentimes such films were the only sources of news that many Americans would see, and whether PC or not, it's a piece of history.  Though some parts are questionable, I believe the overall spirit of the film is to uplift and honor African Americans.

I appreciated this viewpoint of the war.  While obviously propagandistic and emphasizing the positive, how often do we get to hear or see anything about African Americans in the 1940s?  We have movies today about black soldiers and their families, but this is the first period film I've seen.  It not only talked about the men, either!  African American women in the military are highlighted a bit as well!  

The documentary covers all aspects of a recruit's life, their families' responses, and the history of African American contributions in the U.S.  Not to mention, usually only white people are represented in the fashion information we vintage lovers reference.  It was wonderful to see all the African American ladies dolled up!  (It is narrated from a church service, so everyone is dressed to the 9's!)

Flashback Summer: "A Negro Soldier" Documentary

The narrator, a minister, also points out that African Americans had much more to lose if the Nazi regime were victorious.  Hitler said despicable things about black people, and African Americans faced potentially more cost than whites when captured, or if the Nazis were to win.  In the film, defeat of Hitler is also treated as a defeat of racism, a step toward real equality and opportunity for black Americans in their own country.  Undoubtedly, the courageous service and sacrifice of black Americans during World War II broke down more barriers, stereotypes, and expectations that had existed before and opened the minds of many, planting more seeds of civil rights and equality that would come to fruition later.

The people of the U.S. have prided ourselves on the idea of "equality for all" since the birth of our nation, though we have not always represented that ideal in our actions.  All groups have been guilty; no one people, ethnicity, or gender is fully to blame.  We still have a long way to go in defeating racism in our country, but we are closer than we have ever been.  Every day, it is becoming more and more the norm to accept people for who they are, not for the color of their skin or culture they come from.  That is progress.
Personally, I am so impressed with these black servicemen and women of World War II.  Serving in war is hard enough without the sideways looks, comments, institutional barriers, and outright prejudice I'm sure these men and women faced.  From their own countrymen.  That, to me, shows more dedication to one's country when you choose to honor it and protect it even when it mistreats you, believing that someday in the future your work will make it better.  That is character and sacrifice.

And while, yes, this documentary is idealistic in many ways, it seems to me that it is an honor done to black soldiers of World War II.  Here is a film in which African Americans are depicted not in the stereotypical roles, but as men and women of honor who stood for freedom with their countrymen when they were needed.  They were officers, infantrymen, mothers, WACs.... Americans.  We remember and cherish their contributions with pride!

What do you think of the documentary?  Do you find it respectful and honoring, or the opposite?  Do you think we vintage lovers tend to sugar coat some parts of the past out of nostalgia?

While I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this, please keep your comments respectful and dignified!


  1. Thanks for posting this. It is rare to find footage on this topic and am grateful that you chose to honor the wide circle of men and women who have sacrificially served their country.

    Sometimes it's easier to remember the past as only "Leave It To Beaver" moments, but it's good to remind ourselves of struggle. Current situation (thesis) + Struggle (antithesis) = Change (Synthesis). We're better when we remember our struggles as a nation and the choices (good and bad) that led us to our present.

  2. Excellent, well written overview of this important documentary. I've not seen it yet myself, but would thoroughly love to. Though I may not talk at length on my blog very often about the more negative sides of the mid-twentieth century (and goodness knows there were quite a few, from racism to misogyny), I have studied the whole history of the era ever since I was a little girl, and am very aware that things weren't all just Victory rolls, cute dresses, and Tupperware parties by any means at all. I may choose to focus on the positives more, but I'd never shy away from discussing the hardships or negatives, if I felt compelled to either. History is, and will always be, a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on the good, so long as one never forgets that it existed in tandem with the bad and the ugly, too.

    ♥ Jessica

  3. "Hitler said despicable things about black people..."

    Likely yes. However just like Jesse Owens mentioned he was much better treated in Berlin Olympics than in home. "Hitler didn't snub me." Ironically, the real snub of Owens came from his own president. Even after ticker-tape parades for Owens in New York City and Cleveland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt never publicly acknowledged Owens' achievements (gold in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter relay, and long jump). Owens was never invited to the White House and never even received a letter of congratulations from the president. Almost two decades passed before another American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, honored Owens by naming him “Ambassador of Sports” — in 1955.

  4. And something more interesting about Owens and Berlin Olympic Games. Jesse Owens' reception by the German public and the spectators in the Olympic stadium was warm. There were German cheers of “Yesseh Oh-vens” or just “Oh-vens” from the crowd. Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin, mobbed by autograph seekers to the point that he complained about all the attention. He later claimed that his reception in Berlin was greater than any other he had ever experienced, and he was quite popular even before the Olympics.