EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - As a tradition of black history month, each year a national theme is chosen. The 2018 theme, "African Americans in Times of War," commemorates the centennial of the end of the First World War in 1918.
Rodney Atkins, a Tyler pastor and former librarian, has spent his retirement researching the contributions of African Americans from the East Texas area.
"I found out that almost in every predominantly black cemetery in East Texas you're going to find a World War I veteran buried there."
From these discoveries came Atkins' book about East Texas African American's who served in the war.
"There were actually over 500 African American soldiers from this area," says Atkins. "There was one solider by the name of James Webb, he's from close to the Overton area, and really his bravery and being wounded he should have received a purple heart."
In his book, Atkins also highlights African Americans from outside the East Texas area who made contributions that he said many may not know about.
"During World War I, the biggest challenge they had in military war fare was gas," says Atkins. "Most Americans don't realize that gas masks were invented by a man by the name of Garrett Morgan, the same person who invented the stop light."
Atkins says he wanted to write this book because he believes 'it's important to celebrate the history of all Americans'.
Atkins book can be found at Victory Temple Church of God in Christ in Tyler and at the New Life Community Church Bookstore in Tyler.
Atkins is currently working on a book about East Texans who served in World War II.