Pacific Takes A Bite Out Of “Choc’late Soldiers”
The University of the Pacific and Stockton communities came together for the premiere of a film serving as a tribute to the brave individuals who planted the seeds for the Civil Rights Movement.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, Stockton’s Empire Theater played host to the Northern California screening of Choc’late Soldiers from the USA, a film celebrating the sacrifices of the African-American soldiers who fought for the United States of America during World War II.
As part of Black History Month, this event was part of a two-day celebration to commemorate the contributions these soldiers made to society. A panel discussion concerning the impact of documentary films was held in the Presidents Room earlier on Thursday morning.
Event organizer and master of ceremonies Professor Dave Frederickson took to the theater’s stage to address the masses. Though minute in comparison to the group of over 140,000 African-American soldiers who were sent overseas to fight in WWII, the over-capacity crowd of about 400 attendees—including special guests sitting on the theater floor—listened as Frederickson spoke of the group of veterans and community figures in attendance.
Following Frederickson, four special guests took the microphone to voice their thoughts on the film. Bobby Bivens, president of the Stockton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), spoke of community and racial pride in those in attendance.
Retired United States Air Force Major Gen. James Whitehead, the first African American to fly a U-2 plane, talked about the mindset of African-American soldiers fighting for rights they didn’t have back home.
Echoing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Izon expressed his desire for films on these kinds of topics to be shown more than just at only certain times of the year.
“I have a dream that someday films like this will not be thought of as not only able to be watched in February [Black History Month] or March, but on any day of the year,” Izon proclaimed.
Finally, the stage was set for rising Hollywood actress Ashley Dyke, who was recently featured in the Academy Award-nominated film 12 Years as a Slave. Dyke, after sharing how honored she was to have not only worked on 12 Years as a Slave, but also to be in attendance for the screening of Choc’late Soldiers in the USA, officially introduced the film.
Narrated by Shemar Moore, from the popular TV show Criminal Minds, the film features historical accounts of the time African-American soldiers spent in Western Europe during World War II. Stationed in the United Kingdom for the majority of their time before a volunteer move to France after the Battle of Normandy, the soldiers experienced freedom and equality unlike any they had back home across the pond.
Having gotten past the improvised Jim Crow laws placed by the United States in England and undertaking mostly menial tasks in the beginning, everything changed after D-Day on June 6,1944. When Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an invitation for African-American soldiers to fight in the battlefields, there was excitement followed by confusion.
Though they wished to fight and prove their worth to the top dogs, African-American soldiers would be required to give up their ranks and honors in order to enjoy the “privilege to fight alongside the white soldiers.” Nevertheless, many of them seized on the opportunity and fought in the grueling war to help secure victory.
Having experienced freedom and equality for the first time and witnessing discrimination to the highest scale in the form of concentration camps, the soldiers returned home with a new desire for equal rights back home. Those soldiers planted the seeds for the Civil Rights Movement.
Friday, Feb. 21 saw a panel concerning wartime societies and the cultural landscape in the Regents Room, and another one about women and minorities in the Janet Leigh Theatre. Afterwards, a special director’s cut screening of the film was held, with Izon presenting an in-depth talk about putting the film together.
The prestigious event was sponsored by the Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership. In addition, the event was cosponsored by the Pacific Alumni Association, Pacific Humanities Center, Ethnic Studies Club, Black Alumni Club, Phi Beta Kappa, the History, Political Science and Sociology Departments, and Diversity and Community Engagement within Student Life. The Navy League of the United States, Stockton Council and Randolph and Klein Insurance Agency also served as community partners.