If you never read Truth: Red, White, and Black by Robert Morales, do yourself a favor and read it. It’s about Isaiah Bradley, the first Captain America, and he was a Black man. A forgotten hero that fought during WW2 in covert operations that would not reach the history books. His identity, his existence, is a secret, covered up by the government that created him. Isaiah Bradley is in a platoon of African-American soldiers, who are all injected with a defective copy of the super serum, unbeknownst to them. This is parallel to that of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. After being sent on a suicide mission, he is court-martialed for stealing Captain America’s suit and imprisoned for 17 years before finally receiving a pardon.
In imprisonment, the defective serum deteriorates his brain, forcing him to live the rest of his life with a mind of a child. In Marvel’s The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) is alive but broken down by the mistreatment he faced. After doing his part to fight in America’s wars, he was arrested for 30 years and experimented on by American and Hydra scientists. His blood was invaluable despite his race being considered lesser than. He endures abuse and wrongdoings that will forever scar him. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is surprised that he never heard of him, that Steve Rogers never heard of him. This mirrors a harsh truth that many Black soldiers have faced abuse and their erasure in American History.
For example, I really can’t tell you if I’ve ever seen an African-American soldier in WW2 movies. It’s only later in life that I’ve learned that over 1.2 million African-American men served in WW2. They fought for a country that segregated them that still had Jim Crow laws. The Tuskegee Airmen were the only examples of History truly celebrating Black soldiers, but let’s not forget the irony that they were from the same Tuskegee that had committed unethical experiments on 600 Black men that lasted over 40 years. Isaiah Bradley, the first Captain America, is a political commentary on the mistreatment of the Black men, who had risked their lives for a country that shunned them.
This racist history is what plagues Sam Wilson’s acceptance of the shield. Given to him by Steve Rogers, the Captain America who is acknowledged by History. In episode five of the ongoing series, Bradley calls it the white man’s shield. A shield that no self-respecting Black man would want because America does not want a Black Captain America. Sam’s choice is difficult because he understands the weight of that shield and everything that comes with it. He could try to honor Stever Rogers. However, he also knows the History of the Black soldier, men like Isaiah, who gave their lives for nothing in return. There are two sides of History colliding, and he is at the center, with a choice that will change his life forever.
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