Denison University presents "The Brothers' Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience" by Herman Graham the III.
Vietnam was the first war in American history in which integration was the official military policy from the inception of hostilities. The armed forces were appealing to many black men because of the promise of equal treatment, but they found the opposite to be true. In response, black GIs banded together and found their masculinity where the white military hierarchy could not reach; however, in combat situations African American men found that the importance of teamwork and trust crossed racial barriers and fostered interracial relationships.
Herman Graham draws upon participant interviews (including military officials), news media, memoirs, oral histories, and GI folklore to describe both the manly aspirations and the frustrations of black servicemen who felt emasculated by their subordinate status in the armed forces. Searching for manhood, young African American GIs defined their masculinity through racial solidarity stemming from the Black Power movement in the United States and through defiance of military authority. Graham describes their initiation rituals, storytelling, sex talk, cultural awareness groups, handshakes, hairstyles “emasculating” drug use, and older “Uncle Tom” officers. He offers a splendid analysis of the “symbolic crisis” in black manhood created by Muhammad Ali’s overt opposition to the war and provides original insights into particular incidents, most notably the Kitty Hawk events.
Herman Graham III is assistant professor of history at Denison University and has published in the Journal of Men’s Studies.