At 96 years old, Ashley Bryan has published numerous books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor book Freedom Over Me. Infinite Hope is the extraordinary memoir of this hugely beloved figure in children’s literature. Like many veterans, Bryan has never talked about his military service, so his story may take people by surprise.
When his draft notice arrived in 1943, Bryan was a 19-year-old art student who was already familiar with prejudice. One art school interviewer told him his portfolio was the best the school had seen, but “it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.” With his teachers’ encouragement, Bryan was accepted to Cooper Union, which judged applicants blind. Even this did not prepare Bryan for what he would experience when he joined the Army. “As a Black soldier, I found myself facing unequal treatment in a war that Blacks hoped would lead our nation closer to its professed goal of equal treatment for all.”
Infinite Hope tells the story of Bryan’s journey as a stevedore in the 502nd Port Battalion through mixed media, with large photographs interspersed with sketches, paintings and excerpts from his diary and letters. The result is both an intimate portrait of Bryan himself and a rare insight into the African American experience of World War II and the invasion of Normandy, where Bryan worked nonstop on Omaha Beach unloading cargo in the months after D-Day. Later, while guarding German prisoners of war in France after the war’s end, Bryan realized the Germans were given more respect than black American soldiers. After arriving home in early 1946, Bryan locked his WWII drawings away and rarely spoke of his experiences.
Infinite Hope makes Bryan’s incredible artwork, created in the midst of war, available for the first time. It is a must-read for young people, parents, educators and anyone interested in World War II. Most of all, it is the work of an inspiring American who truly embodies infinite grace.