Did you know that Sam Wilson (The Falcon) wasn’t the first Black Captain America?
A lot of people, especially MCU fans, don’t know that Isaiah Bradley was the first Black Captain America.
With a storyline that deals with controversial Governmental experiments, Isaiah Bradley’s story is a heart-breaking journey through American history.
Join as we discuss the real-world and in-universe origins of the one-and-only Isaiah Bradley.
Isaiah Bradley: Real-world Origins
A legend is born
Isaiah’s real world origins begin in the early 2000s.
The idea for Isaiah Bradley originally came from a throwaway comment made by Marvel’s then-Vice-President, Bill Jemas. The comment was taken seriously by the then-Editor-In-Chief, Axel Alonso, who felt it would be a good chance to examine certain aspects of America’s history.
The late Afro-Puerto Rican writer, Robert Morales, was then brought in to work on the story. Being someone who’d written for Captain America, he thought they were joking at first. However, once he heard them out, he found the whole thing kind of depressing. That didn’t stop him from wanting to write the comic, though.
Originally, Morales wanted Isaiah to be a scientist that experimented on himself, similar to Bruce Banner or Reed Richards.
Marvel, however, had other ideas: They wanted him to use a more obvious reference to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
An unethical experiment
The 40-year-long study was a real-world experiment in which the American Government falsely told African-American men that they were curing them of syphilis.
Although a cure existed at the time, the participants were never cured. They were instead given placebos, or (in some cases) nothing at all. This is because the study was only concerned with collecting data on how the unchecked disease was affecting their bodies – it wasn’t concerned with curing them.
Taking this input onboard, Morales fleshed out Isaiah’s character, created the supporting cast, and wrote the ending of the story.
Feeling inspired by the ability to freely reference African-American history, Morales was able to talk Marvel into allowing him to write (spoiler alert!) an ending in which Isaiah suffered brain damage, a clear reference to the world-famous African-American boxer, Muhammad Ali.
Morales ties it all together
Although Morales was pretty much given free reign to write as he pleased, he chose to do a lot of research on the 1940s in order the give the story more realism.
Between his research and the occasional editorial suggestion here and there, Morales had managed to create an epic tragedy which would resonate with not just African-American readers, but also any reader who was after a good story as well.
The result of Morales’ work was the widely-acclaimed 2003 comic miniseries, Truth: Red, White & Black – which can be read for free by anyone who has a Marvel Unlimited account.
Isaiah Bradley: In-Universe Origins
In the early 1940s, an African-American man named Isaiah married the love of his life, Faith Shabazz.
Something else was happening in the 1940s as well – Project: Rebirth, which was a eugenics-based program jointly-run by US, British, and German scientists. The aim of the project was to recreate and refine the Super Soldier serum.
Needing subjects, the scientists took 300 African-American soldiers (including Isaiah Bradley) from a military base named Camp Cathcart and experimented on them. Of these 300, only 5 survived. To keep the project secret, the US Army executed everyone left at Camp Cathcart – including the bases commander and hundreds of African-American soldiers.
Before long, due to field missions and other hazards, Bradley was the sole survivor of Project: Rebirth.
Bradley goes rogue
Grabbing a spare Captain America costume (including the shield), Bradley travelled to Germany for a suicide mission, because he wanted to make sure the Nazis couldn’t mass-produce their own Super Soldiers. Unfortunately, he was captured and was soon standing before Hitler himself. Hitler decided to dissect him and send any left-over body parts back to America as a power move.
Luckily, Bradley was rescued by German rebels. However, when he arrived back in America, Bradley was court-martialled and subsequently imprisoned for the better part of two decades.
During this time, the Government took a DNA sample from Bradley (unbeknownst to him) and used it to try to create another Super Soldier. After 39 tries, they succeeded, and Josiah Bradley was born. However, his surrogate mother helped him escape, so that Josiah could live life on his own terms. During his life, Josiah served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, and would eventually work with the well-known African-American superhero, War Machine.
Josiah’s nephew, Elijah Bradley, would join the Young Avengers as the Captain-America-themed superhero Patriot.
A living legend
As for Isaiah: His wife Faith had written over 30 letters to the American Government on his behalf.
The result? In 1960, Isaiah would be pardoned by President Eisenhower and subsequently released from prison.
While not widely known about, those who did know of him considered him to be The Black Captain America – a living legend. Several Black celebrities and activists would visit him to pay their respects, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Nelson Mandela.
He attended the wedding of Storm and Black Panther, which caused quite a stir among many of awestruck African-American heroes, including Luke Cage and Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (who’d go on to become the second Black Captain America).
Sadly, the Project: Rebirth experiment would ultimately leave Bradley brain-damaged and in a child-like state – cared for by his loving wife, Faith.