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Secret Patriots
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Gail Buckley

      . . . journalist. American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military is Ms. Buckley‚s second book. Her family history, The Hornes, was a national best-seller. She collaborated on the American Masters documentary on her mother, Lena Horne, and narrated PBS‚ documentary on Black American families. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, The New York Times and the New York Daily News.

Excerpts3:13 secs

[This Program was recorded June 12, 2001 in Alanta, Georgia, US.]

      True Patriots have a positive, fighting spirit and the perseverance to endure what it takes to make America better, Gail Buckley found. She draws on 15 years of research which resulted in her book, American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military. Patriots are civilians as well as soldiers to Ms. Buckley. In her personal gallery, James Fortune (a Black powder boy in the American Revolution) stands shoulder to shoulder with Rosa Parks and John Lewis (icons for freedom won through non-violent resistance to injustice.) And ethnicity imposes no boundaries -- heroes come in all colors, she declares.

      Ms. Buckley is not a military historian, she is a journalist. Her „completed American historyš (not „black historyš) makes vivid a formerly invisible part of the story of America: Black Americans fighting and dying for America even when their own rights were being denied them The book grew out of Ms. Buckley‚s keen interest in the politics of the larger struggle for equal rights in America. (Her first book, The Hornes, was a national best-seller about her middle class Black family, which included her famous mother, Lena Horne.)

      Ms. Buckley is clear that it took both civilian and military efforts for Black Americans to gain access to their rightful place in their nation. Blacks in the military were fighting a dual battle between the time George Washington led a „mixed multitudeš -- a totally integrated fighting force -- to the middle of the twentieth century, when the armed services were desegregated by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Black Patriots had to draw on their own spirits and actions to fight the enemy of racism and legalized separatism within the armed forces and at home in America, while facing other nations against whom America had turned its force.

      Ms. Buckley is resolute that the many terrible individual incidents she recounts -- slaves sold back into slavery after fighting in their master‚s places; returning World War Two veterans lynched for being in uniform -- are success stories, no matter how horrible. Yes, what happened to people when they came home is sad. But these people were successes because they were bigger than what happened to them, no matter how difficult their situation.

      The military was always there, Ms. Buckley reminds us, always moving, always bringing people in and letting people out. Many of these were people who returned home to change their communities, because of what had happened to them in the military. And experiences in the military make a difference. In today‚s US Army, which has succeeded, she says, in becoming totally integrated, it doesn‚t matter what you think. But if you act like a racist, you‚re prime for court martial.

      Ms. Buckley includes herself in asserting that most people do not care what others think about them.  They care about what the law says and how they are treated. American Patriots, inside the military and out, across all our artificial divides, still have work to do on both counts.

Conversation 1

Gail Buckley tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how powerfully Washington, D.C.‚s Vietnam Memorial affects her. She relates it to her work on Black Americans in the military, all the way back to the American Revolution. She summarizes their dual battle.

Conversation 2

Ms. Buckley distinguishes between the „completed American historyš she is reporting and „black history.š She recalls the process by which she found and included the people in her stories. She distinguishes between loving the warriors and loving wars, giving examples of Black soldiers from the earliest days of the American colonial war for independence. She assures us that Black veterans of every war moved civil rights forward, convinced that the military was key to ongoing improvements in Blacks‚ overall social conditions, over centuries. She expands. She reminds us of Woodrow Wilson‚s racism, and the heroics Blacks performed in World War One in spite of repeated outrages, which she describes. She traces the roots of America‚s military to the American South.

Conversation 3

Ms. Buckley notes White heroes (including Robert E. Lee) as well as villains, recalling her own powerful emotions while writing _American Patriots_. She considers how Blacks have fought for freedom throughout American history, even when they were themselves not free, with vivid examples. She continues with stories of White people who did not serve in the military, while blocking Black people‚s rights to do so. George Washington‚s integrated Army would not again be seen until the Korean War, she reports. She explains why this is, ultimately, not a sad story.

Conversation 4

America‚s essential diversity is honored through military experiences from the Revolution forward. The history of racism is retraced (with Ms. Buckley offering her personal theory) and brought forward into the present day. Ms. Buckley reflects on the composition of the present day military, with very high Black participation at all levels of the hierarchy. She points out there continue to be more economic opportunities for Black people in the American military than in the larger society. She assesses the American military‚s role in forwarding social mobility for Black people.

Conversation 5

Ideas about history‚s progression are applied to Black Americans in the military. Ms. Buckley personalizes the quiet progress toward a more equitable America that followed each war. The nonviolent character of Black Americans‚ struggle for civil rights is considered, along with the ripple effect it had on other groups seeking a more equitable place in society.  Ms. Buckley describes how she sees the Vietnam War changing the military. She sees World War Two as pivotal, providing examples of both Black and White heroes and the challenges segregation posed. She revisits the origins of America‚s involvement in Vietnam and relates that war to the larger societal struggle for civil rights.

Conversation 6

Reminding us that she is not a military historian, Ms. Buckley declares her love of American history and explains how the experience of Blacks in the American military is also America‚s story. She explains the advantages of her lack of military expertise in telling these stories, with examples that summarize her optimism.


We were delighted also to meet Kevin Buckley, Gail Buckley‚s husband, when we recorded this conversation. We look forward to continuing the conversations we had with them both, on and off the air.

Related Links:
American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Miltary is published by RandomHouse.

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