The highlight of the Michigan football team's trip to France is a visit to Normandy. For anyone who has been there, Normandy is a compelling reminder of American valor. As General Mark Clark once put it:
If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked...was enough...soil in which to bury our gallant dead.
But one aspect of the D-Day story that doesn't always get told is the role of all-black military regiments at a time when the U.S. military was segregated. One key regiment was the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose members were strapped to the blimp-shaped balloons armed with explosives that hung in the air to block the Luftwaffe's ability to strafe the Allied troops below.
"Saving Private Ryan," the film Ira Weintraub and others have encouraged the football team to watch on the flight to France, had an all-white cast. As an NAACP spokesperson once noted,
The most frequent comment about [Saving Private Ryan] is that it's the most realistic depiction ever done of the war, and yet there are no black people anywhere, not even among the extras.
Think about this: many of those black soldiers, like Corporal William Garfield Dabney of Roanoke, Virginia, were from the segregated South. After the war, Dabney got a degree in electrical engineering. But he couldn't find work in his field, because no one would hire him. So he became a carpet layer and tile setter. Dabney and his comrades were risking their lives to protect the freedom of those who wished to discriminate against them.
Thankfully, there are ways to remedy the Saving Private Ryan problem, so that the team can learn about the role of African-American regiments in the Normandy invasion.
In 2007, the History Channel broadcast a documentary entitled "A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day." A clip can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO__qae2DgI
Linda Hervieux in 2015 published Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes. A sample of her writing can be found here.
I hope someone affiliated with the Michigan program reads this, and has the opportunity to share these resources with interested team members.