Thursday, January 12, 2012

George Lucas, White Officers, & “Real Heroes”

“The officers of negro troops have not received the credit to which they are so deservedly entitled, and for which the great service they rendered their country in its darkest hour of peril demands.” Maj. Edward Main, 3rd United States Colored Cavalry

When John McMurray sat down to pen his reminiscences of his experiences as a Union officer during the Civil War, he was 78 years old. Originally written for his local newspaper, McMurray published his memoir in 1916, just four years before his death. McMurray had joined up in 1862, serving in the 135th Pennsylvania, the 57th Pennsylvania, and the 6th United States Colored Infantry. Yet it was his service in the last regiment that he took the greatest pride in – so much so that he titled his book Recollections of a Colored Troop.
While it may surprise you that a former white officer would delight in calling himself a “colored troop,” it is worth remembering that approximately 7,000 white officers served in the USCT (supervised by the Bureau of Colored Troops) and that the vast majority of them underwent strict examinations at the Free Military School.

Understand my annoyance, then, with a comment made by George Lucas concerning his upcoming film about the Tuskegee Airmen:
It's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all. It's one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made. It's not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.
While Lucas was making a decent point about how Hollywood has largely ignored the important role that African Americans have played in many of the nation’s conflicts, I don’t think he had to disparage one film in order to promote his own.

Please don’t think I’m saying that white officers in the USCT were somehow better than the men they led – there were some REALLY bad ones who treated their men like dirt (and in some instances shot them for the smallest infraction).

But let us not forget that these officers also ran the risk of being executed by Confederates for inciting slave rebellion if they were captured.
And at New Market Heights, where John McMurray received a brevet promotion to Major for his gallantry, the reason that so many enlisted men earned the Medal of Honor was that all of their officers had been killed or wounded and they had to take charge of their units and lead them through the rest of the battle.

They were all real heroes too.