The Long Arc of Black Military Opportunity
The epilogue considers the military writings of William Gardner Smith, and the literary reception of his 1948 novel, Last of the Conquerors. Smith worked as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier before he received his draft notice to serve as an occupation soldier in Berlin. While deployed, he continued to write for the Courier as a special correspondent, detailing the injustices faced by Black soldiers abroad under his pen name, Bill Smith. His witness as subject and scribe of the overseas military apparatus offered a counter history to America’s official military record of occupation, and laid the foundation for what would become the familiar narrative told about black soldiering in the postwar era: that military service in the occupied nation was like a “breath of freedom” for African American troops. These contagious narratives of black military freedom and control influenced successive generations of African Americans to join the service, and produced a possibility that had not been possible until the end of World War II: that black men and women might look toward the military service as a career.
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