With today being the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., I wanted to direct your attention to For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots, a 2010 documentary that traced the journey of this country’s black veterans from the Revolutionary War up until President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
In the nearly 8-minute clip above, co-writer and director Frank Martin offers some of the insight he gleaned during the making of the documentary:
One of the most shocking things I learned in this film was how the soldiers were treated when they came home,” Martin says. “We talk about Vietnam and how terrible it was when those of us who served in that war — not that I was in Vietnam, but was in the Navy at that time — when we were out of the service, we were told, “Don’t wear your uniform,” when you left the base. “Don’t put your uniform on. You’re not supposed to talk about your service.” You were not greeted as a hero. And we, to this day, continue to talk about how terrible it was, and it was terrible. But that’s how — that’s what happened to every single black soldier that returned from every single war that this country ever fought up and through Korea.
Hosted by Halle Berry and narrated by Avery Brooks, the film has been screened for the National World War II Museum, the Smithsonian and the NAACP, among others. Though originally aired as two 2-hour episodes, a special 9-hour edition is available that includes 3.5 hours of un-aired footage, along with a guide for using it for educational purposes. Below the cut, though, are two segments from the film, each featuring special guests reading service members’ accounts of the situation on the ground.
It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?
After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.
What convinced you to stay on?
I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.
What was that like?
I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is like The West Wing. But in space. With a Black president. Kind of.
That’s normally how I find myself trying to describe the show to the uninitiated, as I firmly believe that it’s the Trek series you have to use when trying to get people into Trek canon, especially people of color. Deep Space Nine (DS9) causes a strange division in the world of Trekkies. I’ve always found (non-scientifically; I just spend a lot of time at cons) that people either love it or loathe it. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to show it to my kids.
DS9 has your aliens and spaceships, and characters do occasionally say things like “set phasers to stun,” but the Trek cheese-factor is more often than not outweighed by the political storyarcs covered over six out of the show’s seven seasons, its criticisms of 20th century history, race relations in America, and lead actor, Avery Brooks, who stars as Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko–the first and only African-American captain to lead a televised Star Trek franchise.
In both the original Star Trek series (TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), the existence of the United Federation Of Planets provided a perfect excuse to ignore (human) race and racism completely. The Trek franchise has always featured black actors and actresses, well developed Black characters, and TOS even featured the first televised interracial kiss in the episode “Plato’s Kiss.” Both shows dismissed racism on Earth as being as outdated as using money, instead highlighting racial politics between alien species rather than humans.
This model may have continued through DS9 had they hired any other actor to portray Captain Sisko. However, Brooks–a Shakespearean-trained actor, graduate of Oberlin College, and the first African-American to earn an MFA in acting and directing from Rutgers University, where he has also worked as a professor–brought much of himself to the role, and that included an emphasis in the importance of the African-American experience. Even nearly three hundred years in the future. Whether Trek fans were ready for it or not, DS9 brought the topic of race closer to home.