BY KAREN PACKER
Perhaps the most obvious of America’s hypocrisies is its promise of liberty and justice for all. And perhaps the irony of these words is most clearly witnessed in the centuries-long, conflicted history of Black Americans.
Even while America has fought to establish its existence, gain its independence, and institute ideals of freedom, it has been complicit in the denial of these same liberties for the Black men and women who have continuously fought by its side, and shed blood in its defense.
It is the irony of that elusive promise that imbues the new two-part documentary on Black military history, For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots, airing February 15 and 22 on local PBS channel KCET. Throughout the film, producer, director, and co-writer Frank Martin examines why, despite rampant injustice, heroic Black men and women fought so valiantly for freedoms they themselves did not enjoy.
“The more you dig into this, the more you got to know the people in the film – the stories that were being told – the more it just wasn’t right. When you hear stories about the Harlem Hell Fighters, when you hear the stories from the Civil War, when you hear the stories from [the War of] 1812 and the Revolution and you realize what these guys and women did in the face of unbelievable racism, you can’t help but be moved,” says Martin, a longtime Encino, CA resident.
In spite of the film’s extraordinary historical content the project took ten years to complete due to lack of funding. “We were turned down by every foundation. All the companies turned us down – Coca-Cola, Delta (McDonald’s) – all the companies that supposedly support Black America. They all turned us down. And every network passed,” Martin recounts.
In due course Martin traveled to over 20 states and Europe to shoot footage of battlefields and historic sites and to visit the memorials, monuments and gravesites highlighted in the four hour, two-part film that spans pre-Revolutionary War to present day military conflicts.
Actual historic accounts that document the contributions and tribulations of Black soldiers are liberated from letters, diary entries, speeches, and various historic records and brought to life through vibrant visuals, narration, and dramatic readings. Actors Halle Berry, Avery Brooks, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Donald Sutherland, co-producer Louis Gossett Jr., Colin Powell and many other well-known celebrities lend their voices to tell stories that, until now, have been overlooked.
There is the story of James Roberts who left his family to fight in the Revolutionary War only to be returned to slavery and sold for $1500 after America’s victory. There is Andrew Jackson offering freedom to slaves willing to fight in the 1815 battle of New Orleans and then reneging on the promise after the battle is won. Viewers will also see a reenactment of the court-martial and murder of William Walker, a Black sergeant who dared to complain of unequal pay for Black soldiers during the Civil War.
Even though the film focuses on Black patriots, it ultimately tells a story that is relevant to all Americans. It is the story of men and women who are willing to fight for the hope of what could be, for the love of their country, and for love of liberty.
For further info: www.forloveofliberty.org and on Facebook enter For Love of Liberty.
Karen Packer is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but now calls the San Fernando Valley home. She has spent the last 15 years working as a freelance writer, teacher, and publicist.