by Cesca Janece Waterfield
“Soul Soldiers,” a new exhibit at The Virginia Historical Society, brings into focus an era of racial and social upheaval by revealing the personal stories of black men and women who served in the Vietnam War; Marines, soldiers and sailors who demonstrated patriotism even as they were denied many of the rights they fought to protect.
African Americans have defended this nation in every military conflict, beginning with the Revolutionary War, fighting from racially segregated units. Prior to the Vietnam War, one million African Americans served in the Second World War. Yet returning home as victors, they were still denied many basic rights, and the Civil Rights Movement gathered momentum. Protest groups formed, and boycotts, demonstrations, and sit-ins were tools of Americans who demanded integration of schools and public buildings. Although their own rights were not assured at home, African Americans were expected to fight abroad, and with few units as exceptions, Vietnam was an integrated military encounter.