Should America pay reparations for the mistreatment of Black soldiers in the segregated army of the past? We need to examine the psychological effects of serving in the military under apartheid-like segregation.
An opinion piece by Brent Stapler in the June 10 edition of The New York Times struck a raw nerve with me, as I am sure it did with many others. Stapler correctly stated that African Americans who lived through the humiliating experience of segregated military service have typically been hesitant to discuss it. Most have taken their experiences to the grave.
My grandfather, father and uncles all went through this humiliating madness and very few, if any, mentioned a word about it. In his new book, Mirror to America, Dr. John Hope Franklin discusses this government-enforced racism and the toll it took on his older brother. Despite being a high school principal, more than 30 years old and married, he was drafted into World War II.
Stapler talked about how Franklin's brother went into depression and how he either fell or jumped from a hotel window in 1947. Franklin still refers to his brother's death as murder. Many Black men who lived this horror took their depression and climbed into a liquor bottle — as the Vietnam War produced its share of drug abusers, the segregated army of World War II produced alcoholics.
My father was one of those victims. The drinking took him from his family at the age of 63. What was the psychological effect of segregation on young men trying to serve their so-called country in a time of war? Black men served under White officers who, in many cases, wanted the Black soldiers to know they were inferior to White soldiers in the same army, fighting the same enemy.
Will America right this wrong and 65 years later make the children and grandchildren of these Black men who suffered know the wrongs of this government? As Staples states in the conclusion of his piece, segregation in the armed forces took a savage toll on families.
Our position should be that the acts perpetuated by the U.S. government toward our fathers and grandfathers become part of our reparations claim.
Akbar Muhammad, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Binghamton University in New York.