LIBERATORS, the companion volume to the PBS documentary of the same name, is a well-intentioned effort to honor the achievements of black soldiers in World War II and to demonstrate that some of these men liberated imprisoned Jews from Nazi concentration camps. Unfortunately, serious concerns have been raised about the historical accuracy of LIBERATORS. The book and the documentary give the impression that members of the black 761st Tank Battalion drove the Germans from the notorious concentration camp at Dachau. Yet veterans of that unit have come forward to deny this assertion. It appears that the authors of LIBERATORS blurred the facts in order to build bridges between blacks and Jews, two historically oppressed groups who have had strained relations in the United States during recent years.
The historical irresponsibility of the authors of LIBERATORS is lamentable because of the shadow this throws over the moving saga of black combat troops in World War II. The struggle of African Americans for recognition on the battlefield was only one facet of their drive for equal rights in American society. The United States was still a nation deeply divided by a tradition of racial injustice. The South remained in the grip of Jim Crow laws, and across the nation blacks suffered from the economic and social effects of discrimination. The armed forces reflected the prevailing racist attitudes toward African Americans. Repeatedly, senior American military officers expressed their conviction that black men lacked the intelligence and character to perform well in combat. That black units such as the 761st Tank Battalion eventually overcame the prejudices of the high command and earned distinguished records fighting the Germans is a tribute to the perseverance and courage of these military pioneers.