At a time when Republican politicians are eager to erase the contributions of Black people from American history, it’s up to filmmakers and TV producers to fill the gap and tell these important stories. To that end, acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman has taken it upon himself to highlight some of the unsung heroes of WWII.
The Oscar winner executive produced the upcoming documentary, 761st Tank Battalion: The Original Black Panthers, for The History Channel. Premiering Aug. 20 at 8 p.m., the documentary chronicles the first Black tank unit to serve in combat during WWII. It also examines their battles in war and at home.
The Root is proud to exclusively premiere the trailer for this project, which features Freeman speaking with the last surviving member of the 761st and an interview with the first Black Secretary of Defense, Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
“I know that my uncles served in World War II, but for whatever reason, their records don’t exist. It doesn’t make any sense that American history doesn’t include Black people to the extent that it should,” Freeman says in the trailer. “The 761st was the first Black tank battalion in U.S. military history. I’ve been basing this story about the 761st forever.”
Here’s the official synopsis:
“The 761st Tank Battalion, better known as the first Black Panthers, was the only Black tank unit to see combat in World War II. Formed in the spring of 1942, these units of soldiers played a significant role in military operations during the war against Nazi Germany. However, while the majority Black battalion was fighting one battle overseas, they were simultaneously fighting another in their home country – against racism, segregation, and inequality. Despite facing unprecedented adversity, these brave men lived up to their tenacious motto “Come Out Fighting” and became one of the most accomplished tank battalions in U.S. military history.”
We’ve somehow landed in a place where people are denying the struggles of Black Americans throughout this country’s history. When it’s told like this, with contributions from historians and experts, the facts cannot be denied or erased. The 761st existed and changed the scope of the war.
This project highlights something that all those people trying to change textbooks and curriculum haven’t thought of. Nowadays, young people get their information from the internet and the art they enjoy. When a film like Oppenheimer becomes a hit, people seek out more books, movies and series about the subject. So as Hollywood produces more stories about Black history, students will find the real stories behind the art. Films like this will fill the gap and the truth about America’s history will be told.
“I really wanted to see the 761st finally get the recognition they deserve,” Freeman says. “Because these men really did come out fighting.”
761st Tank Battalion: The Original Black Panthers premieres Sunday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. on The History Channel.