The Vietnam War was the extreme conflict between Northern and Southern Vietnam, with American support for Southern Vietnam, to prevent the spread of a Communist government. The Vietnam War took place from August 10, 1950 until January 7, 1973 (officially). For the population in the United States, African Americans were one of the most over-drafted minorities. During the height of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, African Americans, who formed 11 percent of the American population, made up 12.6 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War marked a significant change in the way that African Americans contributed to America's military efforts. Vietnam marked the first major combat deployment of an integrated military and the first time since the turn of the century that African American participation was actually encouraged.
In 1962 President John F. Kennedy reactivated the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces with the purpose of drawing qualified African Americans into military services. The committee found uneven promotion, token integration, restricted opportunities, and discrimination on military bases and their surrounding communities as causes for low African American enlistment. Before the U.S. government could react to the committee's report, the Vietnam War changed the problem. As U.S. troops were introduced into Vietnam in increasing numbers, the expanding military, a discriminatory draft, and other government programs brought not only increased African American participation but accusations of new forms of discrimination. U.S. involvement in Vietnam unfolded against the domestic backdrop of the civil rights movement. From the beginning, the use and/or misuse of African American troops evoked charges of racism. Civil rights leaders came to view the Vietnam conflict as racist.
Sites to Search:
The Vietnam War: This is a website devoted to the American history of the Vietnam War.
African Americans in the Vietnam War: This is an on-line article by Dr. David Coffey, University of Tennessee at Martin Professor of History, that discusses African American involvement in the Vietnam War in relation to the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
African American Involvement in the Vietnam War: This is a virtual library of materials published about African American involvement in the Vietnam War developed by NYC Public Library Librarian Kief Schladweiler. This site includes manuscripts, sound clips, photographs, and other primary source documents. Though some parts of the website are still "under construction, all of the primary documents are available for use.
The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement: This web page from American Studies On-line explains African American participation in the Vietnam War while struggling for Civil Rights.