A University of Northern Iowa professor is off on a book tour after writing the true story of a World War II soldier who served in a black battalion.
Jeffrey Copeland says his quest began with the flea-market purchase of an old suitcase that contained dozens of letters from the man, Inman Perkins. Copeland says the man was a good writer and when Inman began looking into the details of the man’s life, it was no wonder. Inman held a Masters degree in chemistry from the University of Iowa and Copeland says the man was a “wordsmith.”
Though Inman served in a segregated unit during his time in the war, Copeland says his teen years in Des Moines and his education at Iowa are not only an “Iowa connection” — they’re a part of history Iowa can be proud of. When Inman received his degree, the University of Iowa was one of only a handful of schools in the nation that allowed people of all races to be together in the same classroom at the same time.
After the war, Perkins became a schoolteacher in St-Louis, and so did his wife. Copeland used the wealth of material about their lives that was outlined in those old letters to write his book titled “Inman’s War — A Story of Life in a Colored Battalion in World War II.”
Inman’s “eloquent” letters provided Copeland with rich material and Copeland wrote the book in a technique he describes as “creative nonfiction.” It’s not his first book, though it’s the first people may pick up voluntarily. “I’m the scourge of schoolchildren everywhere,” Copeland says. “I’ve done 23 textbooks, so this is the first book I’ve written that anyone may actually want to read.”
After a book signing in Cedar Falls this week he’s off on a book tour but won’t be gone long. Copeland also heads the English department at the University of Northern Iowa.