Posted February 25, 2016, by Mary Grabar: While PBS was releasing its whitewash of the Black Panthers and spoiled college students were protesting because of imaginary slights put out by Black Lives Matter, a true American hero passed away. I had never heard of him, but came across this story in the Washington Post that begins,
Fred V. Cherry, an Air Force fighter pilot, was downed by enemy fire over North Vietnam in 1965, and he spent more than seven years as a prisoner of war.
He had grown up in the Jim Crow South, and his captors made it clear that he could mitigate the harshness of his incarceration, including routine torture, and improve his living conditions by speaking out against the racial injustice and discrimination he had faced as an African American in the United States.
He refused to do so. The communists, who have been instigating racial tensions here in the U.S. for almost a hundred years, tried the tactic on Cherry:
When beatings failed to bring him around, his jailers tried another tactic. They assigned a self-described “Southern white boy” as his cellmate, hoping that racial antipathy between the two men would weaken his resolve and produce a propaganda triumph for North Vietnam.
The strategy failed and the two became best friends, saving each other's lives. Read the rest of the amazing story here.
While textbook writers and curriculum companies continually present negative lessons about American history, from slavery through the Michael Brown shooting, they rarely (if ever) present such stories about friendship and patriotism.
A few words from Schuyler's 1966 autobiography, Black and Conservative. Here is the opening:
A black person learns very early that his color is a disadvantage in a world of white folk. This being an unalterable circumstance, one also learns very early to make the best of it. So the lifetime endeavor of the intelligent Negro is how to be reasonably happy though colored. Certainly this requires considerable doing and, like all other people, the colored are not equally endowed with alertness, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and adaptability. Some have been unable to triumph over the vicissitudes of varying environments while others have. On the whole it is remarkable that the "race" has survived and prospered beyond the wildest imaginings of their forebears who stumbled ashore tethered by the Founding Fathers.
Race is in quotations because Schuyler believed that it was an irrelevant category.
Black and Conservative, unfortunately, did not sell that well, and has been long out of print. But it is an enjoyable read, and one that gives great insight into what it was like to be black in early and mid-twentieth century America. Schuyler educates:
Contrary to the pundits on the Negro (or Caucasian!) problem who bewail the American racial facts of life, most of the colored brethren do not go about perpetually enveloped in gloom and despair. . . .
I shall jump to the last page:
There are forces in the world that want us to fail, and conspire toward that failure, which means disunity and destruction.
Schuyler advocated "relegating spurious racism to limbo" and stressing "the importance of the individual of whatever color." These are the kinds of patriotic words that described the resolve Fred Cherry had. George Schuyler wrote that there would be "no color war" if we work together:
We do not need to share the wealth as much as we need to share our heritage so that all may proudly claim ownership in it. We need to strive to become one people in our resolution, determination, and achievement instead of two peoples, colored and white.
Forthcoming from me will be an essay in a collection called Literature and the Conservative Ideal, in which I focus on Schuyler's serialized fiction.
But here in his autobiography, Schuyler leaves us with these words:
We are here blessed with the right of mobility, the right of ownership, the privilege of privacy and development of personality, and the precious machinery of peaceful change. These gifts and gains it is the purpose of the conservative to defend and extend, lest we perish in the fell clutch of collectivism. These gifts and gains I have been trying in my small way to preserve.
And so I hope in my small way to preserve the memory of this inspirational American.