Grad Student Works to Add Color to Military History: Black World War II Veterans Have Largely Been Left out of Historical Accounts, but One Historian Is Attempting to Change That
Martineau, Pamela, Diverse Issues in Higher Education
A few years ago, historian Lisa Daniels discovered a fascinating morsel of buried history in her own family.
Daniels learned that her grandmother, Rita Hernandez, was a civilian riveter and blueprint reader during World War II, serving on the USS Franklin Roosevelt in the Brooklyn shipyard.
As a Black woman, Hernandez' visage would never be immortalized in posters like "Rosie the Riveter." She rarely talked with her family about her wartime service, in part because it had never garnered much recognition from anyone else.
The discovery of her grandmother's service to America led Daniels to ask a couple of big questions: How many other Blacks have served the armed forces and what are their stories?
Currently a master's student in social history at California State University-Sacramento, Daniels launched the Unsung Heroes Living History Project to answer those questions. The quest has led her to collect the oral histories of more than 280 Black veterans. She is chronicling the histories so they may be catalogued at the Library of Congress.
"For so many decades, historians have ignored the achievements of African-Americans, especially in the military capacity," says Daniels.
"Even in 2006, [the Clint Eastwood movie] 'Flags of our Fathers' had no African-American soldiers, but I know they were there," she says. "That's heartbreaking, that in the 21st century, African-Americans are ignored in history."
The program, begun with Sacramento veterans groups, has now branched out to other groups throughout the country. Sometimes she travels to visit the veterans herself, other times a friend or family member of the veteran tapes the story.
"I thought it was important to get the stories straight from the people who served," she says.
They are soldiers such as former Staff Sgt. Elmer Carter, 95, of Rancho Cordova, Calif. He served in the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II and also served in Belgium, Italy and North Africa, earning three Purple Hearts during his service.
Ask Sgt. Carter what he did during the war and he retorts--"What didn't I do?" One of his primary tasks was to haul ammunition to the supply lines. …