Book review: We Return Fighting

Shaping African American identity.

We Return FightingWe Return Fighting: World War I and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity is a physically beautiful book. It was published by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in 2019. It was a century after black soldiers returned from the war overseas only to fight a different type of battle at home.

One of the ongoing themes in the tome is the fact that black soldiers served the United States, in part, to try to prove yet again their worthiness as citizens. As in most previous conflicts, black soldiers were assigned to segregated units. They were often relegated to support duties rather than direct combat, at least at first. Given the opportunity, though, they often shone as warriors, even underequipped.

Specifically, in WWI, blacks in the military received the respect they deserved from French allies but not their US comrades. This disconnect incentivized them to return to the states and continue the fight for their rights. Black soldiers and black citizens on the home worked to lay the framework for advances in the civil rights movement.

There are scads of photos and illustrations of significant people and artifacts. In other words, it is the history of the black soldier from the Civil War forward. We read also about the horrific Red Summer of 1919 when black veterans were particularly targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist entities. The war and its aftermath shaped African American identity.

Over There

An interesting paradox for me: the book discussed World War I broadly far more than I expected or was especially interested in. Yet I learned a great deal about the great world war. Notably, it was the event that first made the United States a world power.

The book appears to be an outgrowth of the We Return Fighting exhibit at the NMAAH that closed on September 6, 2020. But you can still see elements of that show. I am a founding contributor to this museum, and I hope to visit it someday. My daughter, BTW, has been there twice.

Incidentally, there was a 2002 book called We Return Fighting: The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age by Mark Robert Schneider. I have not seen it.


Black people on television in 1968

Ruby Dee was on Peyton Place

Mission ImpossibleAfter Diahann Carroll, star of the sitcom Julia (1968-1971) died in October 2019, I wondered how many black people on television were there in 1968.

I came across a list of all the American television shows with black actors in that pivotal year. It did not indicate the performers by name, but I could easily come up with:
Bill Cosby as tennis trainer/spy on I Spy (1965-1968), who won three Emmys for the role
Ivan Dixon as Sgt. James Kinchloe on Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1970)
Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek (1966-1969)
Hari Rhodes as Mike on Daktari (1966-1969)
Greg Morris as electronics expert Barney Collier on Mission: Impossible (1966-1973), probably my favorite performer at the time
Don Mitchell as aide Mark Sanger on Ironside (1967-1975)
Clarence Williams III as “youth squad” member Linc Hayes on The Mod Squad (1968-1973)
Gail Fisher as secretary Peggy Fair on Mannix (1968-1975)


There were blacks on some other programs, but I don’t remember the shows. Cowboy in Africa (1967-1968) featured Gerald Edwards as an orphaned ten-year-old named Samson. N.Y.P.D. (1967-1969) had Robert Hooks as detective Jeff Ward. The Outcasts (1968-1969) co-starred Otis Young as Jemal Davis as a freed slave turned bounty hunter after the Civil War.

Then there were the programs I recall but not the characters. Gentle Ben (1968-1969) had a guy named Willie (Angelo Rutherford) its second and final season. In its fifth and final season, Peyton Place (1968-1969) added a family: Dr. Harry Miles (Percy Rodriguez), his wife Alma (Ruby Dee), and the teenage son Lew (Glynn Turman).

The High Chaparral (1967-1970) featured Frank Silvera, who was born in Jamaica, playing Don Sebastian Montoyo until Silvera died in 1970, and his character died as well. Daniel Boone (1968-1970) also had black actors, initially Don Pedro Coley as Gideon, a “black Indian.”


Finally, I certainly remembered Chelsea Brown and her 26 episodes on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1968-1969. But I had to look up the fact that Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham also appeared 15 times during that season. The show had started in January 1968.

Per Mark Evanier, there were two different black guys named Gilliam who were on Laugh-In. Byron Gilliam was born on November 3, 1940, in Gary, IN. He was known for his work on Playboy After Dark (1969). He died on November 22, 1990, in Wisconsin. He was on Laugh-In from the beginning of the 1968-1969 season to 1971, for 41 episodes.

He’s not to be confused, as Google has done, with Stu Gilliam, who was on Laugh-In for four episodes in 1970. Stu was born on July 27, 1933, in Detroit, MI, as Stewart Byron Gilliam. I remember him from Roll Out, created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds in the early 1970s. He was married to Vivian White. He died on October 11, 2013, in Ceské Budejovice, Czech Republic.

Economic Color Blindness of the Sears Catalog

Sears’ innovative business model brought unprecedented market access to black customers

Sears catalog I already felt badly in 2017 when the local Sears store closed, even though I probably hadn’t shopped there in over a decade. I felt worse in 2018 when the company filed for bankruptcy.

Part of it was that Sears should have been the best position to become what Amazon has turned into, the category killer. It was because of the Sears catalog.

Now I’ve read this very entertaining article, The Economic Color Blindness of the Sears Catalog. The company “played an important role in circumventing the institutionalized racial discrimination of the Jim Crow South.”

I get the sense that a lot of people in America don’t understand how restrictive things could be. “For example, a black shopper would likely face greater difficulty than a white shopper in obtaining credit for a large purchase when such decisions fell to a racist store owner. The retail store could impose a higher credit price structure on black patrons as a matter of personal discretion, or deny them credit entirely.

“The Sears catalog, by contrast, would allow black patrons to buy the same item by mail on credit, with Sears having little ability to bring race into the equation.

“Black patrons could also be refused a sale in a store if they sought an item deemed dangerous to the racial hierarchies of segregated society, such as a firearm.” But Sears, in the days before more restrictions, could ship guns to any home.

“The Sears catalog circumvented the ability of local store owners to discriminate as it essentially allowed for a faceless transaction that took place entirely by mail. Combined with the expanded price competition it brought to the retail industry” – isn’t that what Amazon did more recently? -“Sears’ innovative business model brought unprecedented market access to black customers — and did so in a way that allowed them to avoid the indignities of discriminatory treatment at the cash register counter.”

What’s also interesting is the assessment by Gary Becker from back in the 1950s that “a discriminatory cultural belief such as racial prejudice also carries associated economic costs for the discriminator.” In other words, it costs bigots to be bigots, a lesson still applicable today.

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