Author Brian Shellum visited the Mason County Public Library to talk about his latest book African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910-1942.
Shellum is an historian who focuses on buffalo soldiers, military attaché, and military intelligence history. He graduated from the the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, holds a graduate degree from Campbell University, and studied at the University of Bonn.
“As a historian I’m always looking for untold stories. I have been researching and writing about the life of Charles Young since,” Shellum said. Young was born in a log cabin near May’s Lick and later moved to Ripley, Ohio. He was among the first African Americans to attend and graduate from West Point.
“I first read of his accomplishments in 1996. I graduated from West Point and Charles Young was a graduate of West Point. You share a common bond with graduates no matter where you go to school, but it’s a special one coming from West Point,” Shellum said. “It’s a difficult road and a difficult task to get through West Point. Clearly I’m not black, I went through my own struggles at West Point and so did he but there is a common ground. Also, I served as an army officer and I could tell his story as an army officer. I was a military attaché; he was a military attaché three times. I could tell his story about what it’s like being a military attaché in a foreign country. I felt obligated to tell a story of a fellow graduate from West Point, and it makes me feel good to tell a story that needs to be told. It’s satisfying as a human being and as an American to tell a story about a fellow American, especially when it needs to be told.”
Shellum’s most recent book, African American Officers in Liberia: A Pestiferous Rotation, 1910-1942 tells the story of 17 African American officers, while detailing the African American military experience in the first half of the 20th century. It brings to life the story of the African American officers who carried out a dangerous mission in Liberia for an American government that did not treat them as equal citizens in their homeland, and provides recognition for the critical role they played in preserving the independence of Liberia.
“You don’t read about this in history books,” Shellum said. “You don’t read about him the same way you would read about other important things that occurred in this time, because African Americans at this time and even people like Charles Young were invisible. People during Jim Crowe, their stories were not told in a serious way and they were treated by the press mainly as caricatures.”
“Their stories have not been told and I think it’s important to tell those stories. We didn’t give them the proper attention at the time so now we can tell the stories today. I think it is important to honor people like Charles Young as well as the other guys, they never had their stories told. They came back, they didn’t get parades or recognition in the newspapers for what they done. Some of them died on station, they paid for it with their lives,” said Shellum.
“They’re untold stories that are finally getting told.”