Drexel Professor’s New Film Tells Untold Story of Black American Soldiers in Great Britain during World War II
March 10, 2014
During World War II, more than a million African Americans fought in a segregated and discriminatory United States military.
A landmark new documentary, “Choc'late Soldiers from the USA,” produced by Drexel University writing professor Gregory Cooke, tells the compelling, previously untold story of 140,000 of these African American men and women who were stationed in Great Britain, and how they crossed a racial divide to forge an unexpected bond with British civilians.
The film will make its Philadelphia debut at Drexel on Tuesday, April 8 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. in the Mitchell Auditorium of the Bossone Research Center (3120 Market St.). A question-and-answer session and reception will follow the screening from 8 – 9 p.m.
The event is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Drexel’s English & Philosophy Department. The event will include introductions by Cooke, an adjunct writing instructor in the English & Philosophy Department of Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, and André Carrington, PhD, an assistant professor of English, who is co-hosting the event. The screening, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 13 during Black History Month, was rescheduled due to inclement weather.
“The fact that this film screening is being supported and sponsored by Drexel’s English and Philosophy Department sends a powerful message that creative historical, literary and cultural works of this nature have a definitive place in higher education across academic disciplines,” said Cooke.
Also in attendance will be family members of the late Philadelphian Andrew Nix, who is featured in the film. Nix was one of 2,221 African American GIs who accepted the “privilege” of taking a pay cut and reduction in rank to fight alongside white combat soldiers in Europe during the war’s waning days. The outstanding service of the 2,221 (the group produced two Medal of Honor winners) was pivotal to President Truman’s decision to desegregate the U.S. military in 1948.
The film, directed by Emmy Award winner Noel “Sonny” Izon, premiered in Nov. 2009 as a work-in-progress at the Hirshhorn Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It was named “Best Military Film” at the Bakersfield Film Festival (2013) and “Best African American Film” at the Indie Film Festival in Los Angeles (2013).
The soldiers portrayed in the film, members of segregated Army units, were engaged in preparations for the Normandy invasion. Unexpected bonds formed between the African American soldiers and British civilians as the soldiers introduced the Brits to jazz, jitterbugging and Black-American culture. For the first time, African American soldiers experience what it is like to be treated as equals and as Americans. The documentary includes these veterans recounting their first-hand experiences.
Reflecting the Jim Crow practices of the time, the army and other branches of the U.S. armed forces were segregated. However, the realities of war, Hitler’s advancing army and pressure from civil rights leaders led Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to temporarily end segregation in the army and rush African American GIs to the front lines.
Using archival footage and interviews with veterans and the British citizens they encountered, “Choc’late Soldiers” paints a vivid picture of the GIs’ experiences and the British civilians’ relationships with the men. The film is narrated by Shemar Moore and co-produced by Joe Montegna, both of the popular TV show, “Criminal Minds.”
Cooke’s career as an educator and historian has helped relocate African Americans from the margins to the main page of American and global history. “Choc’late Soldiers from the USA” is the first of a trilogy of documentaries commemorating the World War II contributions of African Americans. Cooke is currently producing and directing the second installation in the series, “Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II,” a documentary about the 600,000 black “Rosie the Riveters.”