Scott Pitoniak and Rick Burton explore the life of Tuskegee Airman and accomplished athlete Wilmeth Sidat-Singh in their historical novel, Invisible No More.
Wilmeth’s intelligence and athleticism make him an intriguing figure to 25-year-old Buffalo sports columnist Breanna Shelton, a black woman who inadvertently hears of him 57 years after his death. She chases down details of his life and discovers his bouts with racism echo her own challenges with discrimination and misogyny.
Born Wilmeth Webb to black parents, he adopted his Indian stepfather’s surname as a child. He grew up in Harlem where the white press that covered his high school basketball prowess referred to him as the “Manhattan Hindu.” Although he disliked that moniker, it persisted, as many fans were more comfortable cheering for someone with an assumed Indian heritage than a black player. After matriculating at Syracuse University on a basketball scholarship in 1935, he was recruited for the football team.
Although excelling at both sports, he wasn’t allowed to live on campus or play against teams that refused to compete against black athletes. Nonetheless, he “found the courage to turn the cheek and beat the bigots with his endless supply of talent and kindness.” After graduating, he played professional basketball with two black teams to save for medical school before joining the Tuskegee Airmen in 1943.
Breanna serves as a literary device to deliver Sidat-Singh’s story. The authors chose to fictionalize his story after years of archival research and interviews yielded few remarks of his on the record and apparently revealed no weaknesses. Through Breanna’s research that echoes their own, a profile of Sidat-Singh emerges that imagines his innermost thoughts. If he appears idealized or Breanna’s storyline seems somewhat thin, these shortcomings can be overlooked in light of a clearly written, well-researched narrative that places events in historical context while drawing parallels between past and present.
Overall, this is an engrossing and inspirational tale of an overlooked but deserving athlete.
Blue Ink Heads-Up: This book may be of particular interest to the Syracuse University community.