African American World War II soliders are finally beginning to get the recognition they deserve. writes that Denzel Washington has signed on a new writer for the upcoming movie production Brothers in Arms. What impresses me most is that the movie is based on a book—but even more surprising, the movie is based on a book by Kareem Abdul-Jabar. I assumed he only wrote books about himself and basketball stuff. Go figure.

denzelDenzel Washington has lined up a writer for Brothers In Arms, his long in-development directorial project about the only African-American tank unit to fight in Europe during World War II. Matthew Sand will write a new version of the script on what sounds like a an interesting true story.

The 761st Tank Battalion overcame prejudice and became a key part of the post-D-Day offensive move east through Europe, spearheading the Battle of the Bulge and proving themselves to their comrades and a more racist era. Their story was captured in a non-fiction book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the NBA star best known around these parts as the co-pilot in Airplane!) and Anthony Walton.

John Sayles and David Chisholm previously wrote a draft of the script, with Sand now lined up to work on a new version. Sand recently worked on Ninja Assassins for the Wachowski brothers and director James McTeigue, and has two other films in development: the rather intriguing sounding American By Blood, about the hunt for Sioux leader Crazy Horse following Custer’s disastrous last stand, and The Red Star, based on Christian Gossett’s graphic novel with Timur Bekmambetov set to direct. (Read more . . . )

What about the book that inspired the movie?

A powerful wartime saga in the bestselling tradition of Flags of Our Fathers, BROTHERS IN ARMS recounts the extraordinary story of the 761st “Black Panthers,” the first all-black armored unit to see combat in World War II. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first learned about the battalion from family friend Leonard “Smitty” Smith, a veteran of the battalion. Working with acclaimed writer Anthony Walton, Abdul-Jabbar interviewed the surviving members of the battalion and their descendants to weave together a page-turning narrative based on their memories and stories, from basic training through the horrors on the battlefield to their postwar experiences in a racially divided America.Trained essentially as a public relations gesture to maintain the support of the black community for the war, the battalion was never intended to see battle. In fact, General Patton originally opposed their deployment, claiming African Americans couldn?t think quickly enough to operate tanks in combat conditions. But the Allies were so desperate for trained tank personnel in the summer of 1944, following heavy casualties in the fields of France, that the battalion was called up. While most combat troops fought on the front for a week or two before being rotated back, the men of the 761st served for more than six months, fighting heroically under Patton?s Third Army at the Battle of the Bulge and in the Allies? final drive across France and Germany. Despite a casualty rate that approached 50 percent and an extreme shortage of personnel and equipment, the 761st would ultimately help liberate some thirty towns and villages, as well as the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp. The racism that shadowed them during the war and the prejudice they faced upon their return home is an indelible part of their story. What shines through most of all, however, are the lasting bonds that united them as soldiers and brothers, the bravery they exhibited on the battlefield, and the quiet dignity and patriotism that defined their lives.

While we’re on the topic of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, can I point out that the brother has quite a listing of authored works. I think I rather read his biography, but here are a few books that the rest of you might be interested in:

From 1920 to 1940, the Harlem Renaissance produced a bright beacon of light that paved the way for African-Americans all over the country. The unapologetic writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, the fervent fiction and poetry of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, the groundbreaking art of Aaron Douglas and William H. Johnson, and the triumphant music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong gave voice and expression to the thoughts and emotions that Jim Crow segregation laws had long sought to stifle. In On the Shoulders of Giants, indomitable basketball star and bestselling author and historian Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invites the reader on an extraordinarily personal journey back to his birthplace, through one of the greatest political, cultural, literary, and artistic movements in our history, revealing the tremendous impact the Harlem Renaissance had on both American culture and his own life. Beginning with the rise of the Harlem Rens as pioneers of professional basketball, Kareem traces the many streams of historical influence that converged to create the man he is today—the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a veritable African-American icon. Travel deep into the soul of the Renaissance—to the night clubs, restaurants, basketball games, and fabulous parties that have made footprints in Harlem’s history. Meet the athletes, jazz musicians, comedians, actors, politicians, entrepreneurs, and writers who not only inspired Kareem’s rise to greatness but an entire nation’s.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always been fascinated by history-nineteenth-century American history in particular. Tired of L.A., restless and looking for new adventure, challenge, and discovery, he decides to go live among the Apaches he’s read about. He encounters a complex reality. The kids on the Alchesay Falcons team don’t easily embrace what he’s trying to teach them on the court. Gradually they begin to learn from him as he begins to learn from them. He teaches them to push out of their comfort zone and try new things, both in sports and in life. They give him something he didn’t quite expect: a way to reconnect with his passion for basketball. This is a story about the qualities we have in common and the things that still divide us in terms of race, culture, and history. Along the way, we get to know the kids, the coaches, the town of Whiteriver and Alchesay High, the tribe-but most of all, we get closer to Kareem, a man well into middle age who wants to pass along his knowledge and experience in basketball and life. Kareem gives something back, and in so doing receives more than he ever imagined.

In this ideal introduction to black history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar examines the lives of heroic African Americans and offers their stories as inspiring examples for young people, who too rarely encounter positive black role models in history books or in the media. Profiled here are Peter Salem, the volunteer soldier who turned the tide at Bunker Hill; Joseph Cinque, leader of a daring revolt on the slave ship Amistad; Frederick Douglass, self-taught writer-orator and escaped slave who forced President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation years ahead of schedule; Harriet Tubman, who led at least three hundred slaves to freedom; Lewis Latimer, whose scientific work was integral to the achievements of Bell and Edison; and many more.Shining a bright light on the touchstones of character, these exemplary stories reemphasize the integral role of African Americans in weaving the fabric of our nation and form an empowering legacy from which Americans of all ages can draw inspiration, wisdom, and pride.

My memories of Kareem are limited to his guest appearances on Different Strokes. Yup, I admitted that. Couldn’t find a YouTube clip though. Kareem’s publication history is impressive, especially since I don’t see Jordan, Bryant, or O’Neal writing any books. Maybe I’m wrong. Somebody better school me.

Happy reading, y’all.