Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Robin L. Murray
Almost 6000 African American men gave their lives in the Vietnam War. While peaceful protests, voter registration drives, and racial confrontations occurred throughout the United States, the government continued to send young Black men to Southeast Asia to preserve the "freedom" of the Vietnamese people. The irony of this situation lies in the fact that these soldiers were asked to fight a War in the name of democracy, to kill in order to secure rights that they themselves were being denied. Although many Black Americans saw military service as a means of escaping poor ghetto life, they often were confronted with the realities of discriminatory practices within the Army and the continuation of racism upon their return home.
The poetry of Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Yusef Komunyakaa explore what African American participation in the Vietanam War really meant. By using literary techniques unique to the Black Aesthetic and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, these poets lyrically showed how Black involvement in the War aided the dominant white culture in its attempt for racial genocide. While Baraka related the oppressed condition of the African American to that of oppression in Third World countries, Nikki Giovanni wrote to prove that the War was a waste of Black youth that could better be used in the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States. Yusef Komunyakaa, writing from a veteran's perspective almost two decades later, showed how the Vietnam War both blurred and emphasized the racial divisions between Black and white soldiers, along with the Vietnamese people themselves.
Guernsey, Megan, "African American Poets of the Vietnam War" (2000). Masters Theses. 1610.