Letter to the Author from Dr. Willard B. Gatewood

Dear Mr. Schroder:
I have spent much of my rather long career as an academic historian studying various aspects of African American life and culture. I knew of David Fagen, but mine was a very superficial knowledge of this most extraordinary individual.

In my view, you have used Fagen in Cousins of Color - a work that follows very closely the historical record - to capture the "real" story of America's involvement in the Philippines, especially as it relates to the issue of race. Cousins of Color demonstrates the extent to which Uncle Sam and Jim Crow marched arm-in-arm into the Philippines under the banner of something officially called "benevolent assimilation." No other work with which I am familiar so thoroughly captures the complex forces involved in this aspect of the Spanish-American War or demonstrates such a firm grasp of the context and diverse ingredients of this conflict. Your knowledge of the plight of African American soldiers, the different cultural and language groups in the Philippines and the relationship that developed between these two so-called "colored peoples" is indeed extraordinary.

There is no doubt that through historical fiction you have illuminated a highly significant chapter in America's past in ways we historians have been unable to do. Cousins of Color explores with extraordinary skill themes and ideas that have persisted in our history for a very long time and will capture and hold the attention of readers, most of whom are certain to detect analogies between "the struggle for empire" at the end of the 19th century and later struggles waged under various banners in the 20th century and beyond.

Dr. Willard B. Gatewood,
Alumni Distinguished Professor of History (Emeritus) and author of:
Black Americans and the White Man's Burden
Smoked Yankees and the Struggle for Freedom
Aristocrats of Color

Interesting, informative and a great read.

This historical work of fiction is based on the Spanish-American War. It’s June 1899, and David Fagen has just graduated from college - quite an accomplishment for a southern black man at that time. He decides to join the Army to fight for his country and show the world black men can defend the flag as well as white men. He’s sent to the Philippines where the U.S. is allegedly liberating the Filipinos from Spanish rule but is actually flexing its expansionism muscles to quell the rebels and rule the Philippines until they’re “able to rule themselves.” My God, nothing has changed in 105 years?

Fagen is accustomed to discrimination in the States, but it continues in the Army as well. His black company is given the crummiest jobs, but that make the men all the more determined to fight harder and show their worth. He is stunned at the way senior officers lie to and treat junior officers so the seniors look good. He is appalled by their inhumane treatment of the captured rebels and seethes at the officers’ blatant dislike of the very Filipinos they’re supposedly liberating. No, killing is not liberating, unless you’ve already tortured the innocent people beyond belief.

The book tells of Fagen’s difficult decision to abandon his country and join his cousins of color in their fight for independence, his military prowess, his love and devotion to Clarita and the few joys and many disappointments in his life. This is an interesting, informative and great read.

Nan Kilar

The Asian Reporter's Book Review of Cousins of Color
By Oscar Johnson

The author of this work of historical fiction writes in his preface that, unlike other U.S. war exploits, so often romanticized for better or worse in print or on screen, "No one knows anything about the Spanish-American War." It’s an oversight that William Schroder applied extensive research as well as creativity to set right.

Cousins of Color is a well-written, no-frills story that at times feels abbreviated but not lacking in substance. Historical figures such as the cruel Captain Baston, ambitious Colonel Fredrick Funston, and Filipino revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo star in this novel alongside equally central characters from the author’s own imagination.

The novel weaves a plausible yarn about what impact the Philippine campaign might have had on the men of the all-black 24th Infantry dispatched there. Its protagonist is the black, educated son of a Georgia sharecropper, out to prove the worth of his race via the U.S. Army and America’s first imperialist venture overseas.

Of course, Schroder’s creativity has to flesh out much of what befell the men of the 24th, to say nothing of how they saw events. It is in fleshing out the closeted skeleton of Pfc. David Fagan, however, who really did switch sides to lead Filipino freedom fighters against the U.S. Army, that creativity and research merge to tell truths — no matter how fabricated the details.
It isn’t long before Fagan’s aspirations to prove the black man’s worth to Uncle Sam are tested. It’s not only his benevolent uncle he fights for, but Jim Crow as well. This is not lost on the de facto enemy.

A war to "liberate" the Philippines from Spain is manifested in a series of ruthless campaigns to suppress Filipino insurgents equally disinterested in a U.S. protectorate. Sterile terms such as "collateral damage" are unnecessary in a time and place where the lives of "gooks" are of no more value than those of "coons."

Herein lies Schroder’s real talent: his vivid portrayal of racism’s exploits. The picture he paints is not just one in which grotesque characters condemn, torture, and conquer solely out of racial hatred (though he offers ample examples). Instead, he portrays a landscape in which nonchalant matter-of-fact racism, born from an Anglo sense of superiority as deep as it was false, informs late 19th-century and early 20th-century America — be it the soldier on the battlefield or crafters of foreign policy in the White House.

From this rises our hero, neither rebel nor conformist. It is not so much his quiet questioning of a warped status quo that sparks his desertion as it is circumstances beyond his control. As much a hero by choice as turncoat, Fagan is driven most of all by his longing to make some sense of the injustice and suffering he grew accustomed to long before joining the army. In the end, the question haunts protagonist and reader alike.
That Schroder draws from time to time on his own experience in the Viet Nam War is evident in minute details: the squirting black blood of a combat wound, a jungle that is oppressive to foreign fighters and a safe haven to their indigenous counterparts, even guerrilla propaganda calling on black soldiers to consider for what they fight. It blends well to round out his tale.

Cousins of Color is a page-turner that sometimes leaves the reader wanting after learning what comes next. Some abrupt shifts between chapters and hard-to-ignore gaps in time may make readers wish they had read the manuscript before editors and publishers began snipping. They are not likely to be disappointed, however, with the finished product.

If the book’s purpose is to give us an inkling of — or further prompt us to delve into — "the war that no one knows anything about," it serves its purpose admirably.

At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1899, the United States began its first foray into imperialist expansionism when it assumed control of the Philippines from Spain. Rather than a relatively brief conflict as expected, the American forces found themselves fighting the independence-minded Filipinos in a long, bloody clash. In William Schroder's well-researched novel, the American occupation is experienced through the eyes of Private David Fagen, a young, college-educated African American serving in the all-black 24th Infantry. The patriotic Fagen is out to prove himself to his white countrymen, but instead finds himself identifying with the Filipinos he's been sent to fight. Not much has been written or is known about the African American men who fought in the Philippines at the turn of the century, so Cousins of Color makes for an interesting and unique read. The interweaving of historical figures, including Fagen, with fictional characters is handled deftly. Schroder, a veteran of combat in Vietnam, has done a fine job of capturing the daily life of a country under occupation, as well as the military action as experienced by individuals on all sides of the conflict. The only real weakness is the love story between Fagen and the female revolutionary Clarita, which initially seems rather inexplicable, but which later provides an impetus for the plot in the novel. Despite this minor weakness, Cousins of Color will appeal to American and military history buffs because of Schroder's attention to detail and his obvious love for the subject.

Catherine Collins, Historical Novel Society

I have been meaning to write a review about Cousins of Color by William Schroder since I finished reading it two weeks ago. If you are looking for a historical novel that has the Philippines as a focal point in its storyline, look no further. This is the book for you. Cousins of Color is the best book I’ve read all year.

I was introduced to Cousins of Color through the Yahoo Philippine Studies Group and decided to give it a try after reading through the synopsis presented in

Although Cousins of Color is fiction, Mr. Schroder expertly combined his imagination with the historical events of 1899, the time of America’s first experiment in imperialism by occupying the Philippines. He based the book on the life of Private David Fagen, known in history as the first of twenty African-American soldiers who defected to join the cause of the Filipino resistance led by Emilio Aguinaldo.

As the Philippine-American War progressed, many African American soldiers increasingly felt they were in an unjust racial war. Recognizing a growing affinity with the black soldiers, Filipino freedom fighters used propaganda to enlist them into their cause. Posters and leaflets addressed to "The Colored American Soldier" described the lynching and discrimination against blacks in the United States and discouraged them from being the instrument of their white masters' ambitions to oppress another "people of color." Blacks who deserted to the Filipino nationalist cause would be welcomed and given positions of responsibility. Private David Fagen became a notorious "Insurrecto Captain" and so successful fighting American soldiers, a price of $600 was placed on his head. (Source: Soldiers in the Sun: The Philippine War).

Cousins of Color took me on a journey beyond typical history books. At one point during my reading, I thought if history books were as well written, perhaps more Filipinos would learn of their history. Cousins of Color made me draw several parallels to events currently going on in our society. I think this is a large reason why I enjoyed it so much. Perhaps one of the greatest parallels is how the story delicately reveals similarities to another situation America faces - the occupation of Iraq. From the US Army’s effort to keep soldier morale high to Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist articles, from President McKinley’s commune with the Almighty to the lower ranking American officers’ ends-justify-the-means conduct of warfare, one could not help but compare 1899 to 2004.

In the tradition of other great novels, Schroder effectively developed the character of David Fagen and filled in the gaps in the historical question of why he deserted the army by introducing Clarita Socorro, the beautiful and mysterious guerrilla fighter, into the mix. Schroder then merged his fictional characters with historical figures - Emilio Aguinaldo, Frederick Funston, Lazaro Segovia, Hilario Talplacido, Cecelio Segismundo, Mark Twain and others without altering recorded history.

Cousins of Color is definitely a must read book, and I am truly happy someone from outside the Filipino community took the time to learn and understand Philippine history and culture.

I give Cousins of Color an enthusiastic “Two Thumbs Up.” Get your copy today.

By Don Clariza
Copyright (c) 2004

Cousins of Color, by William Schroder, is a masterful and unblinking account of the Spanish/American war and America's first excursion into imperialism and colonialism.

As a military advisor for films and television (including "ALEXANDER" and "BAND OF BROTHERS"), I seldom read military works for pleasure, because I read so many for work and research. Wading into Cousins of Color, I was stunned to discover it a page-turner. Simply put, this is one of the best books I've read in years. Cousins of Color is replete with the grand themes and ideas that have always infused the best in art and the best in men: Dignity, love, moral conflict, discrimination, tyranny, honor and the struggle for freedom.

America's expansionism and the Philippine Insurrection was clearly a precursor to the brutal, protracted and divisive guerrilla war in South Vietnam some sixty years later. As a former combatant in Vietnam, the author knows his landscape, its indigenous toxins and inherent terrors and writes with the authority and intensity of someone who's been there.

Mr. Schroder is an impressive storyteller, and beyond the novel's impact and historical insight, it is a warp-speed read.

Michael Stokey
Military Advisor for Film and Television

Good literature deals with grand themes. If the literature of a nation is to last - to outlive passing societal fad, it must explore large themes and issues. Great forces must drive events, and the characters must strive to overcome cruel fate. Basic human emotions must be prominently featured and examined. Literature that survives tells the truth, no matter how hard to hear.

If these are the basic criteria for constancy in literature, then Cousins of Color by William Schroder is certain to be with us for a long time. Not a happy book by any means, Cousins fictionalizes the historical events surrounding the American 1899 conquest and occupation of the Philippines and tells the story of a single black soldier who forsook his country, dreams and aspirations to help another "colored" people gain freedom. Not a happy book, but a truly inspiring and uplifting tale of a man who followed his moral compass in a time of uncertainty, chaos and anarchy.

Now, while our nation once again flexes expansionist muscle, we Americans can learn - and benefit - from knowledge of our first struggle for empire. Cousins of Color provides us with that opportunity. I heartily recommend this truly extraordinary book.

C.D. Johnson
Las Vegas, Nevada

History Comes to Life

Cousins of Color, from first to last, is exciting and visual (I can’t wait for the movie!). Black troops in the Philippines to help “liberate” it from the Spanish must fight not only the enemy, but also suffer prejudice from many white soldiers. David Fagen becomes an outcast, forced to desert, unwelcome where he is and unable to return home. The story of how he survives and triumphs is fast-paced and intriguing. The characters walk off the pages into the mind and heart forever.

William Schroder is a man who can write!

Byron L. Sacre,
Author of Family and Other Strangers

An Amazing Journey

In the tradition of Stone and Vidal, this vivid and visceral biographical novel took me on a page turning journey into the depths of David Fagan's soul. William Schroder has painted a truly conflicted portrait of one man's agonizing and passionate clash between love of country and personal truth. Set in the Philippines during the Spanish American War, this country's first encounter with "liberating occupation," I found myself engrossed in this remarkable tale and asking the same difficult questions facing many Americans in today's challenging times. When Hollywood makes this into a movie, and surely it will, I pray it will be as honest as this work so richly deserves. Excellent, absolutely excellent.

Dean Welsh
Los Angeles, California

Brings History to Life

I could not put this book down once I began, and I was quickly drawn into a period of American history of which I was ignorant. The dialog is crisp, the attention to detail astounding, and the plot heartbreaking. I eagerly await the next novel from this talented writer!

Stephen M. Esposito
Lake Havasu, California

In Cousins of Color, William Schroder has crafted a wonderful, thought provoking novel. Based on events during the Philippine Insurrection, the story describes the conversion of an actual historical figure, David Fagen, from patriotic black soldier to deserter to the insurgents' cause, brought about through bigotry in the U. S. Army and atrocities committed in the field. Schroder skillfully forms a fictional life for Fagen from his knowledge of the insurrection, what little is known about his protagonist, and his own combat experience in Viet Nam.

My interest never flagged while reading this fine book by an exceptional writer. I highly recommend it.

Robert Watters
Author of The Wholesale Candy Company: A Memoir

The Spanish-American War. Not much is known about it to the average American. But I’m a bit unusual; not only do I hold a Ph.D. that dealt with a lot of military history, but my great-great uncle was Admiral George Dewey, who upon his flagship Olympia seized Manila harbor after saying "You may fire when ready, Gridley," a quote perhaps second only to “Remember the Maine!” when thinking of this war. I also hold a perverse fascination with Colonel Fredrick Funston and his mysterious ways of showing up in a variety of perverse situations throughout this war and others…with little historical explanation.

So while I knew quite a bit about the grand scheme of events, the big-player decisions, and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, the plight of the common soldier in the Philippines was beyond my knowledge. In addition, I had little idea about how the Filipinos felt about all this colonial bickering and slaughter. William Schroder, in his fabulous book Cousins of Color, filled in the blanks for me. The history is right on the money, the novel engaging and compelling, and the characters flesh-and-blood. Don’t pick up this book if you need a good night’s sleep…you’re not going to put it down before morning.

William Schroder has created a very rare thing: an historical novel true to history, relevant to today in frightening measure, and characters worth cheering (and jeering).

Julia Dewey Rupkalvis, Ph.D.
Warriors, Inc.

Cousins of Color is resonant with several themes germane, even essential to understanding America's role in the world: Even a benevolent dictator is inevitably seen as a malevolent dictator. Idealism is an enduring value.

The Spanish-American War and its aftermath is perhaps a better model for the current police action in Iraq than any other American war — certainly better than the oft-cited Viet Nam war.

Cousins of Color is engrossing — the rhythm, steady pace, tense trajectory and harsh reality stand out — no happy endings here.

I have recommended to many friends without reservation — who in turn have enjoyed and been moved by it.

Stephen A. Wald, Ph.D.
Seattle, Washington

Engrossing history and character study

Cousins of Color, by William Schroder, is a fascinating and enlightening view of America's involvement in the Philippines at the turn of the century. President McKinley has sent U.S. military forces to Manila for "humanitarian" reasons. This is not a book about the men who make important decisions but the trickle-down effect of those decisions on other men. Schroder's story allows the reader to see what doors are opened by the arrogance of those in power. We see the dark side of some men manifest itself and the strength of character in others come through. It's a book about choices and one man choosing to do what is right over what is expedient.

Ali Mosa
Seattle, Washington

Cousins of Color provides insight into a little-known but fascinating 1899 segment of military history, reveals a serious blemish on the United States and blessedly marks the significant progress we've made in the past century. The novel depicts the courage of Negro David Fagen who renounces his U.S. military obligation in the Philippines to blaze a trail to right wrongs in our cultural and political history. His romance with Clarita, a beautiful Philippine guerilla, and his abhorrence of the illogical and extremely cruel treatment of Philippine prisoners and people convince him to join the natives and fight for their freedom. The novel will stir the reader's disgust with the self-centered officers who led the U.S. white and black troops into battle to destroy the very people they were supposedly liberating. The combat scenes, torture and suffering are intense. The author's background and combat experience bring realism to the gruesome history. The novel has the unique excitement needed to make an historical and memorable feature film.

The front cover of the book has a note suggesting America has a continuing obsession with conquest and racism. Our history since 1899 proves otherwise. Our two World Wars and the present conflict were and is dedicated to bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples and rebuilding, not empire building. As for racism, our country has made strides, but our progress is anything but acceptable. We can do better.

Cousins of Color is a must read for every American.

Jim Adams
Author of Escape to Montana

I found Cousins of Color to be a truly remarkable read. William Schroder's ability to intertwine historical fact and fiction, in order to demonstrate the complexities of a particular period of time, is simply awesome. The longer you read the more you become involved with each person; they really come to life and are no longer just a name on the written page. Mr. Schroder captured the very essence of a people and a time in America's history.

Jo Ann Bradley
Las Vegas, Nevada

Can a historical novel provide readers with accurate information about our past? It can if the book is based on primary and secondary source information that has been thoroughly researched and evaluated. History that has been relegated to footnotes (or completely ignored) can be brought to the forefront with a carefully written historical novel.

Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation - recommended reading.Click on the link below to view.