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African American Soldiers during Vietnam War Essay

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Updated: Apr 9th, 2020

Starting with the 17th century Africans were taken to the United States, where later they became called African Americans. These people were slaves and rolled over for the master earning no money and living poorly. In 1863 slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln, and African Americans became free people, however, the derogation did not stop (Bankston & Antoinette, 2006).

A case of discrimination, or differentiation and an unequal treatment of the members of some group, can be seen through the history of the United States. This problem was relevant not only to the situation that occurred on the American territory, but also on the battlefield far from it. In the 1960s and 70s, African Americans battled racial discrimination at home in the United States but also faced similar if not the same tension as a member of the Armed Forces while fighting in the Vietnam War.

In 1960 state-sanctioned segregation and explicit discrimination were removed. The concept of racial integration was established due to the administrative laws that were enacted at that time. It seemed that the situation with race discrimination cleaned up, but it was not the case. As adult African Americans had no opportunity to get a good education before this time, they could not gain a decent work place (Santoro, 2008). This problem refers to the education and labor discrimination.

A part of African American males was able to find better jobs, but still about 2/5 of them occupied the positions in service, labor or worked on farms. The European Americans also were engaged in such activities, but the number of them was not that great.

Being economically unstable, the families suffered difficulties in everyday life. Women tended to control the household. Class discrimination occurred because of the difference between European and African middle class families, the last were often poorer and had to live in the neighborhoods of big cities (Downs, 2010).

After the end of the World War II, Afro-Americans started a movement to assert their civil rights. At this moment they began to put the faith in their own power and became assertive as they gained better living conditions. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the N.A.A.C.P.) was created and claimed attention of many European and African Americans, who supported their actions.

The riot began in the 1950s and soon was headed by its leader Martin Luther King (Jenkins, Jacobs, & Agnone, 2003). In 1963 this movement reached its apogee with a demonstration, which took place in Washington D.C.. Thousands of European and African people gathered to show their protest. It was called the national March, which is now thought to be the most intense protest in the history of the United States.

The Congress took measures to reassure the public and introduced the Civil Rights Act. According to this legislation, the discrimination in public places, education establishments and jobs was prohibited, and African Americans got the voting right. In a few years’ time, the Supreme Court accepted Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American judge (Randall, 2009).

Martin Luther King believed that it was possible to fight for the rights of Afro-Americans without any violence, but not all people wanted to follow this path. Malcolm X claimed that the only way to win the battle was to use the force. This revolt was called “Black power”.

The contempt of that time realities was even shown during the Olympic Games, as the winners from the United States turned away from the flag. In 1968 the riot still would not end, and the murder of Martin Luther King by a European American man just added fuel to the fire (Jenkins, Jacobs, & Agnone, 2003).

African American people who served in the U.S. army in that period also suffered from the discrimination. It was the time of the Vietnam War, and white Americans were claimed to be more sensitized to it. Because of the anti-war demonstrations that were held in the United States, Afro-American soldiers started to associate themselves with the Vietnamese.

They were like victims of the aggression based on one’s race. These thoughts led to the fact that a lot of soldiers wanted to show that they were the best, as they believed the war to be an opportunity to change their poor economic and social conditions in the United States when the army would come back home (Zvirin, 2005).

It is said that proportionally more black people were recruited than white ones, which could have been considered as a continuation of the race discrimination. The draft boards were very unfair and subjective. The member of one of them belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and claimed the participants of African American resistance to be communist-inspired and immoral. The majority of Afro-American soldiers were uneducated people who lived in poor conditions and had no job or a bad billet one.

This happened also because the military promised to take care of those who would agree to affiliate themselves with a war. Many of these people were not prepared, and to encourage them the armed forces offered some training programs, however, they were canceled soon (Bankston & Antoinette, 2006).

Afro-American soldiers often gained dangerous duties and menial tasks. They also got worse housing and faced harsher sentences than others. The percentage of dead and wounded black soldiers was higher than that of white ones. To improve this situation, the U.S. government took some measures for shifting the balance (Randall, 2009).

Mixing African American and European American soldiers was sure to lead to the weakening of the Armed Forces, but due to the way this was made, the statement can be argued. For several years these people were emphasizing that they were not equal yet. The demonstrations, both violent and non-violent, and riots widened the gap between these two races and it was hard for the citizens to live in such chaos. With no solution found, they were made to fight side by side in order to achieve a common goal, which had nothing to do with their problem.

European Americans received better living conditions and less dangerous duties in combat. Black soldiers understood that they were treated in another way. The fact that the mortality rate of people of their race exceeded made African Americans be in terror of their lives and feel unsatisfied. Thus, the feuds occurred. Nevertheless, a number of them believed that after the war their efforts would be rewarded. Soldiers tried to make themselves useful and fought tooth and nail. This dream had a positive influence on the cohesion and the outcome of the war.

Thus, it can be seen that the discrimination in the United States was also way beyond. People who were struggling for their rights at home faced almost the same pressure while being at war, which only emphasized the unsolved conflict.


Bankston, C., & Antoinette, D. (2006). Immigration in U.S. history. Pasadena, Calif: Salem Press.

Downs, L. (2010). Summer 1960: African independence, American independence. Alabama Heritage, 1(97), 49-50.

Jenkins, J., Jacobs, D., & Agnone, J. (2003). Political opportunities and African-American protest 1948 – 1997. American Journal of Sociology, 109(2), 277-303.

Randall, D. (2009). African American life: Roses and revolutions. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Santoro, A. (2008). The civil rights movement and the right to vote: Black protest, segregationist violence and the audience. Social Forces, 86(4), 1340-1414.

Zvirin, S. (2005). African Americans in the Vietnam war. The Booklist, 101(11), 970-971.

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