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Spotlight: J. Marcellus Burke

When J. Marcellus Burke returned from his tour of duty as a cartographer in World War II, he was greeted with the beginnings of what would become the erasure of the Black soldier’s participation in the war. He recalls “not seeing a single Black face” in the coverage of the returning soldiers directly after the war’s conclusion. Over 2.5 million Black men registered for duty in WWII. And yet, when they returned home, they were greeted with, no thanks and underemployment. Burke was no exception and from that experience, he developed an interest in what he called the “Black warriors” who fought both for the US and abroad.

Paired with this intellectual curiosity and Burke’s longtime interest in fighter pilots in May 1991 he found himself at a symposium hosted by Virginia Bader, the niece of Group Captin Douglas Robert Bader, an ace in the Royal Airforce. At this symposium Burke met Geralfieldmarshcall Adolf Galland who served as the commander of the Luftwaffe in WWII. In a conversation with Galland on the recruitment practices, Galland insisted that the German air force did not screen out eligible men based off of race.

This conversation became the basis of Burke’s book “The Black Knights”, a historical fiction which tells the story of Black pilots in the German air force and their lives. Burke’s goal with his novel is to illuminate a part of Black history that was erased and offer a narrative of Black pilots performing incredible feats. He decided to come to Soulful Chicago Book Fair to reach a larger audience of Black people, for whom his book is intended to reach.

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