History of Black servicemembers depicted in life and art

African Americans have served in every war fought by or in the U.S. At times, they fought in exchange for freedom.

Christiane Cordero Image
Sunday, February 12, 2023
History of Black servicemembers depicted in life and art
African Americans have served in every war fought by or in the U.S. At times, they fought in exchange for freedom. The stories depicted in art show how much has changed throughout history - and how much has not.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- On a recent Friday morning, the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall near downtown Los Angeles transformed into a classroom, where weaving through a group of veterans' family history also unravels history itself.

African Americans have served in every war fought by or in the U.S. At times, they fought in exchange for freedom.

In the 1940s, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dave Culmer was among the first to ever serve in that branch as a Montford Point Marine.

By the time Patsy Pitts enlisted in the Army, she was the first woman in her family to do so.

"I can imagine my father, who fought in three wars and got the silver star, felt the same way on that bus," Pitts said in a speech during the event.

She later elaborated, saying she became closer to her father when she was in the military "because that's what he was about."

She served for a year and nine months and admits, her experience was rough.

"I suffered from PTSD because of MST," said Pitts. MST stands for military sexual trauma. "The military does strive to heal its veterans, which is great, and in my case through, the GI bill, they gave me the opportunity to go to school, and I began to find myself with art."

At 62 years old, Patsy graduated from Otis College with a degree in fine arts.

One of her most recent pieces, a portrait of the late-Colin Powell, was on display at the event.

Next to it was a painting of another soldier, in fact, a samurai.

"He hails from Mozambique, is what we believe," said Adam Rodgers, a fellow artist at Otis College. He pointed to the background of his artwork, showing Mozambique mudcloth patters.

The painting was of Yasuke, a Black man brought to Japan in the 1500s, likely as a slave. Much of Yasuke's life is unknown, which is why Adam left some parts of his art unfinished.

But it is clear the samurai fought, protecting one of the era's great leaders. It became his legacy.

"Just to be able to go from what we believe is a slave to a feudal lord's right hand man, it's a beautiful story," said Rodgers.

The story shows how much has changed throughout history, and how much has not.

"The thing now is, why would we serve a country that doesn't love us. It's because we love our country and we fight where we stand," said Pitts.