Hear ye, hear ye

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Philadelphia’s a town gone bonkers for its history. Of course it helps that Philadelphia’s history includes the always popular, founding of the nation stuff — Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’ house, Betsy Ross’s house, George Washington slept here, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence there..etc. All that and the Liberty Bell.

A little while ago, we got a new piece of the tourist/history package — the National Constitution Center. Now just to dispel the idea — the place is not a repository for the original constitution of the United State of America. But then, Independence Hall doesn’t have the real Declaration of Independence either, so I guess it’s all a wash. (top image is young Stella touching hisory at the Constitution Center)

What the Constitution Center does have, right now, is a wonderful exhibit of the photographs and text from Yvonne Latty and Ron Tarver‘s new book, “We Were There,” the collected oral histories of African American soldiers from 20th Century America’s armed forces. (image is detail from the exhibit. Pictured is James Brantley, Vietnam vet and local painter. See my PW review for more on his work.)

The book — give it four stars like the generals — is beautifully achieved by the local writer and local photographer. See We Were There website for more — and to buy the book (highly recommended). The photographs by Tarver depict the soldiers today. Dignified shots of elders. Each story has an archival photo just for comparison.

In Latty’s hands, the soldiers’ stories are transformed from facts and dates to gripping drama — much of it focussed on race relations and heart-wrenching humiliations experienced by soldiers just trying to do their duty and running smack into racism every step of the way.

Stella and I attended the opening reception for the exhibit. Several of the veterans whose lives were chronicled were also there, as were their buddies and families and supporters. The house was packed, and when Latty spoke, describing her passion for the project, the crowd rose to its feet and clapped loud, hard and long.

It brought me to tears, as did the book, with its unbelievable true stories. Buy the book. See the exhibit. At the Constitution Center until Aug 15.

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