Ashley Bryan was a renowned artist, storyteller, and writer. He shares his experience as a Black soldier in a segregated U.S. Army through his autobiography, Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace. As a draftee at the age of 19, Bryan provides a unique perspective of D-Day and World War II. He recounts that at the end of the war, Black units were not returned home as quickly as their White counterparts. Since entire units were not sent home together, Black soldiers often did not receive the jubilant welcome that was experienced by many others.

     Devastated by recurring images of the warfront, Bryan switched his path of study from Art to Philosophy at Columbia University in New York City. He rarely shared his wartime experience and drawing, and only family and close friends knew about Bryan’s Army service. After the war, Bryan became a prominent author of children’s literature, but very few knew he was a Veteran. For forty years, Bryan’s wartime drawings remained locked away in his map case drawer. He was persuaded to bring them into the light of day by Children’s Literature New England, where they were presented as slides at an annual meeting. He put the drawings away again and continued to paint and draw the flowers around his home, a subject he preferred.

     Eventually, a group of family and friends created the nonprofit Ashley Bryan Center and encouraged him to create paintings based on his drawings from World War II. These war paintings emanate color and exuberance showing a world created by the soldier. A world where they are living their lives sheltered from war. Bryan wanted these war paintings to be vibrant and full of life, not drab and bleak like the beaches of Normandy.

     Infinite Hope tells of the struggle of one man, but also of many. Bryan used his war experience to come out of the war as an artist, something that he had always hoped to be.

Extend Your Learning:

Use these comprehension questions with your kids or students to build their literacy skills! Print out this PDF for classroom use.

  1. What is the main idea of the story? What details let us know that this is the main idea?
  2. What does it mean to be drafted?
  3. What was Bryan’s rank after basic training?
  4. Why did Bryan refuse the offer to attend Officer Candidate School?
  5. Which illustration stands out the most to you? Why do you like it?
  6. Why did Bryan keep paper and pencils in his gas mask?  
  7. State your opinion: Do you think it was difficult to be a Black soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II? Why or why not?
  • Ashley Bryan preferred to draw from sketches that he made first. Can you draw and paint based on a sketch? Try it out!
    • Create a sketch of something in your house. It can be anything! Bryan liked flowers and nature.
    • From the sketch, create your painting. Be sure to use whatever colors speak to you!

If you are one of our central Ohio neighbors, check out the book at your local branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library where the book is available! Then come to the NVMM and learn more about unique Veteran stories that can be found throughout American History.

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$1 Admission on Jan. 16 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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