I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene from Marvel’s 2003 Truth: Red, White & Black written by Robert Morales and drawn by Kyle Baker. It’s the story of the Black servicemen the US Government experimented the super-soldier serum on before they gave it to Steve Rogers. It’s a really great story that brings some of the ugliness of our nation’s treatment of Black citizens to the fantasy world of the Marvel Universe.
The first six issues tell the story of Isaiah Bradley – the first successful recipient of the super-soldier serum. The last issue deals with Captain America’s reaction to discovering Isaiah exists. When I first read this book in 2003 I came to this page here which shows Isaiah’s rich life after he returned from war and the influential people he met through the decades. When I first read this scene I thought to myself “How is it possible that all these people knew about Isaiah Bradley and not Captain America? How is it possible that someone as significant as him would be recognized by all these Black leaders but the world at large wouldn’t know about him?” At the time I just passed it off as an editorial oversight and a common comic book continuity problem caused by a writer that was trying to force through a plot.
Over the years I realized it represented something far more worse. Through my own white-presenting lens, I missed the story of systemic racism and intentional erasure of Black stories – just as in my own educational upbringing I never learned the true American History. The whitewashed version I was shown left out true American heros, it failed to recognize how Black people built America, and it honored racists and bigots who committed acts of genocide and enslavement as heros.
As we celebrate Juneteenth today, many of us – probably the majority of all white people – don’t understand why. It’s the day when federal troops told the city of Galveston, Texas they must free their slaves despite two years earlier the Emancipation Proclamation being signed freeing all slaves. It’s the day when all Black slaves legally became free in the United States. Mainstream curriculum and telling of American history fails to recognize the contributions of Black people and disguises institutional racism. In the decades that followed former slaves were treated brutally for the quest for equality and the right to live free. Even with all the horrific and daunting challenges newly freed citizens had – heroes rose up, as they most often do. Men and women who moved our country forward, invented incredible things that changed society, broke sports records, built businesses, improved the way of life for people Black, brown and white, and survived in a culture and system that was not built for their survival – but rather was built for the betterment of white people.
But the majority of white America will never know their names. The curriculum and conversation in our society was never designed to be anything other than White Supremacist.
There is an entire history of US citizens whose accomplishments were brushed aside and their legacy was erased from history books. But their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and great-grandsons and great-granddaughters remembered their legacies and shared them with their friends and then share them with their families to make sure that the legacy of Black accomplishments that our government & society has worked so hard to hide was never forgotten.
Say THIER name too.
Say the names of our Black people whose legacies have been forgotten and brushed aside. Say the names of the former slaves that built their lives surrounded by constant threat and chaos and moved our world forward. Say the names of Black Americans murdered on the street by the very people we have entrusted with our safety.
That’s why this scene means so much more to me now because – on my own antiracist journey – I have recognized how much I never learned. In our white-led, white designed schools, we never learned the real American history. White supremacy culture and the scarcity mindset that it creates leaves white people afraid to acknowledge and share the truth about American history and American heros. Our ancestors are responsible for the perpetuation of systemic racism, acts of violence, and the erasure of names we should all know. We are responsible for recognizing the ways in which these systems have provided us with privilege and working daily to dismantle the culture of inequity.
To his credit, Captain America went immediately to Isaiah’s house as soon as he found out that Isiah existed to offer what help he could. He met Isaiah’s wife who told him that despite the VA not covering his medical costs and never acknowledging the existence of him they got on OK. They had a rich & fulfilling life and didn’t need anything from anybody. They made it on their own just like so many other Black families had to do in our country after slavery ended. Cap was there to return the original uniform to Isaiah Bradley that he discovered and prompted this whole story into action and at the end Steve promises to live up to his legacy because despite being Captain America he knows he wasn’t the first – he’s standing on the shoulders of a great Black man who did all the hard work so Steve could reap the rewards.
On this Juneteenth I want you to take some time and educate yourself on the true history of America. In addition to reading “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning” with my daughter and “White Fragility” with my wife, I will be buying books from EyeSeeMe, supporting other Black-owned restaurants and businesses, donating to Forward Through Ferguson and Action St. Louis, signing my name to the calls to action demanded by Ready By Five, and joining WEPOWER’s Virtual Black Joy Juneteenth Celebration at 5PM tonight. Over the next 72 hours, I ask you to answer the call to Buy Black, Give Black, Defend Black. Make your pledge here: bit.ly/wepjuneteenth.
In solidarity and with hope for a better tomorrow,