"Minority Veterans." In Source Material on the Vietnam Era Veteran. Congress.
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 173-236. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1974. Committee Print 26.
Part 3: Minority Veterans.
The Returning Black Vietnam Era Veteran / James M. Fendrich. (p. 222-233).
(Originally published in Social Service Review, March 1972.)
SuDoc No.: Y4.V64/4:V67/6
James Fendrich's article is a well researched look at returning African-American veterans to
1968 Jacksonville, Florida. By gathering interviews from 199 men, Fendrich hoped that his results
would be applicable to large cities across America. The 199 men were selected at random from a
list of Jacksonville veterans obtained by local veterans organizations. Television and radio
stations also called for participants by advertising the study. The local chapter of the
National Urban League served as a contact point for the veterans and conducted the interviews.
Though there was concern that the sample group would be unrepresentative of the entire
African-American veteran population, (as being too biased towards lower income veterans), the
final sample group turned out to be better educated and better off financially.
Fendrich's study found that 67% of the men surveyed were "subemployed," or had not
worked over 37 weeks of the year. This despite the relatively high level of educational
achievement. Furthermore, while the majority of the veterans said they were satisfied with the
service provided by Veterans Administration offices, they were not satisfied with other
organizations when it came to finding work. More men were helped by the National Urban League,
with one part time employee, than by the State Employment Service which was run by full
Fendrich's study also measured the amount of "alienation" that the veterans harbored.
"Alienation" is defined here as "voluntarily chosen by the individual as an
attitude toward the social system, as he realizes that the system does not provide worthwhile
activities or goals in social life." This portion of the study which measured
"alienation" found, among other things, that:
Although Fendrich stated that it was impossible to tell whether African-American veterans would
assume a responsible leadership role in their communities or resort to violence, "the
impossible black revolution may indeed be possible, if not successful."
- Distrust of authority figures increased as the figure was identified as more local, i.e.
policemen received a distrust level of 57%.
- Seventy-seven percent agreed that "law and order" not "justice" was the
main concern of contemporary society.
- Sixty-five percent thought of themselves as black men first and Americans second.
- The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
(SNCC) received a 60% and 58% approval rating respectively.
- Most veterans rejected violence overall as a means to achieve the goal of civil rights,
- Thirty-six percent said that violence was the "only way" to achieve this goal.
- Fifty-eight percent believed that Jacksonville would experience a major riot in the near
[From Social Service Review, March 1972]
The Returning Black Vietnam Era Veteran1
(By James M. Fendrich)
"This study explores the readjustment to civilian life of 199 black Vietnam-era
veterans. Additional national data are used to demonstrate that black veterans are faced
with unique problems."
The Vietnam war and domestic interracial conflict are the two major crises of the
contemporary United States. As participants in both crises, black veterans are uniquely
caught in the causal nexus of recent events. As the nation slowly disengages from its
Vietnamese involvement, a number of transitional problems must be faced. Not the least
of these problems is the response of the war-trained black veterans to an admittedly racist
society and to potentially four hundred thousand to five hundred thousand black Vietnam
veterans assuming civilian status, and with an apparent drop in first-term reenlistment
rates for blacks (14), the black veterans has undoubtedly begun to affect the future of
black-white relations in America.
The veteran returning to the black community encounters two aspects of black American
culture that are certainly more ubiquitous than when he left. He encounters an expanding
black-consciousness that may border on separatism, and a heightened demand for immediate
and radical social change. In the pursuit of either, the role of the black veterans may
be pivotal. The late Whitney Young suggested that the role may change from full participation
in society, with a rejection of militancy, separatism, and violence, to the use of
guerrilla-warfare skills in militant attempts at social change (29). Regardless of which
role is chosen, it is Bayard Rustin's judgment that black veterans will be the new cutting
edge of the black protest movement (20).
The patterns of adjustment to civilian life may be significantly different for Vietnam
veterans, in contrast to World War II or Korean veterans. The military and civilian sectors
of society have changed. During World War II the military was a tightly segregated social
institution reflecting the racial sentiments of the society. Under pressure from black
leaders and facing a presidential election in 1948, President Truman signed an executive
order which stated:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of
treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race,
color, religion or national origins. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as
possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes
without impairing efficiency or morale (27).
Moskos (15) and Stillman (22) note that it was only with the conclusion of the Korean War
and the advent of the Vietnam crisis that the black soldier was involved extensively in
integrated combat units. The process of social change has been slow. Nevertheless, the
armed forces have probably made a more dramatic institutional change in terms of integration
than any other large-scale institution in American society.2 For example,
Stillman draws the stark contrast between the integrated and economically secure life-style
of blacks on a military post and the opposite life-style of blacks in a neighboring civilian
Since most black men in the armed forces do not seek military careers, the questions can be
raised whether black veterans are returning to second-class citizenship or whether the
military experience has provided the training and skills for upward mobility in civilian
life. A number of authors have speculated about the problems black veterans will face
(5, 21, 29). Problems are described as the transition from "democracy in the
foxhole" to discrimination in the ghetto at home. There are vivid descriptions of
a veteran who "makes it" in civilian life or one who does not and re-enlists,
and one who does not make it but is determined not to re-enlist.
Unfortunately, many articles are not well researched, in that they convey neither the breadth
nor the scope of what readjustment involves for the black man. Little attention is given
to the proportions of blacks and whites receiving veterans' benefits. Large federal programs,
such as Project Transition, and programs such as the National Urban League's Veterans Affairs
Project are described, but the extent and level of participation have not been carefully
examined. Because of the uncritical assessment and style of the reporting, most of these
articles perpetuate a "cruel deception." The reading public is left with firm
impression that guidelines and proposals on paper are significant programs that have
actually been put into effect, and that, given enough time, the various federal bureaus
and private agencies will be able to ward off a a serious crisis for discontented black
veterans. The point of view may be a comforting thought for some, but there is no way of
assessing the validity of reporting.
This study explores the readjustment of black veterans to a large Southern metropolis. The
research project had three major objectives: to assess the difficulties black veterans
experience in adjusting to civilian life, to determine the extent of alienation among
black veterans, and to relate to the level of alienation to military and postservice
Although the findings apply directly to only one area, they may provide a partial indication
of black veterans' adjustment in metropolitan areas. The literature on political
participation suggests that urbanism may be a more important source of bias than regional
differences, i.e., urban samples of blacks in both the North and the South may be more
similar than urban and racial samples of Southern blacks (11). Thus, the results of this
investigation may reflect characteristics of black veterans who return to metropolitan
areas rather than problems specific to one geographic region.
The data were collected by personal interviews with 199 black veterans during the autumn
of 1968 in Jacksonville, Florida. A list of black veterans was compiled from seven local
agencies, which provided information on veterans by race; an enumeration was made of every
third household in eighty randomly selected city blocks having 75 percent or more nonwhite
households, and three "snowball techniques" were used.3 A random
probability sample was drawn from veterans released from military service after
January 1, 1963.
The nature of the black social structure, the widespread suspicion of white motives, and
the general mobility of a young black male population all present unique difficulties in
sampling and interviewing black veterans. These were overcome in large measure by obtaining
the cosponsorship of the Jacksonville Urban League and using black veterans as contact men
and field interviewers. Black veterans were trained to complete the enumeration, conduct
twenty-five interviews under field conditions, and collect the data from the 199 respondents
in the study. Cooperation was obtained from a local television station and two radio
stations to explain the general objectives of the study to the black community.4
Of the 256 persons that were drawn in the sample, 77.7 percent, or 199, were
interviewed.5 Since most of the names and addresses of black veterans were
acquired from agencies providing some form of assistance, it was thought the sample could
be biased toward "hard-luck" cases. Our best estimates of the population
parameters for black veterans were the characteristics of thirty veterans whose names
were obtained in the eighty-city-block enumeration. These veterans were compared to the
remainder of the sample. The variables were length of service, year of military discharge,
highest military rank, branch of service, number of weeks worked during the past year,
marital status, employment status, income, education, occupation, and a general
socioeconomic-status index. There was no statistically significant difference between the
two groups when compared on the first nine variables. Those veterans selected from the
enumeration were, however, significantly different from the remainder of the sample on the
last three variables. Contrary to expectations, the veterans from the eighty-block
enumeration had lower levels of education and occupation and consequently lower socioeconomic
status. Since the majority of veterans' names were chosen from sources other than the
enumeration, the results suggest that the total sample is slightly biased toward those
veterans who have relatively higher socioeconomic status. That is not to say that these
veterans are middle or upper-middle class. The vast majority of veterans are concentrated
within the lower and lower-middle classes. It is only within this limited range of
social-class positions that the difference between the enumeration and the remainder of
the sample is apparent.
Difficulties In Adjustment To Civilian Life
The Department of Defense has released two studies of army veterans which report data by race.
The first (24) reported that black veterans were twice as likely not to be employed full-time
(10.7 percent) as white veterans (4.7 percent). The average weekly earnings for black veterans
($114) were less than those of white veterans ($125). Moreover, the percentage of veterans in
postservice school and training programs was lower for black veterans (23.9 percent) than for
white veterans (30.3 percent).
The second study (25) provides more detailed information on earnings for 388,000 army veterans.
The average annual earnings for black veterans were $6,164 compared to $6,940 for white
veterans. If educational differences are controlled, black earnings lagged behind those of
whites by approximately $700. If scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) are
controlled, black earnings lagged behind those of whites by $300. If both education and AFQT
scores are controlled, the income differences between black and white veterans were typically
$300-$500 per year. In general, Vietnam veterans earned less than other veterans. Lowest
earnings were reported by men in combat arms (armor, infantry, and artillery). It was found
that black earnings lagged behind those of whites, regardless of military occupation.
In the Jacksonville study the first question was to what extent black veterans were using GI
benefits. The highest level of participation was found in GI life insurance and educational
training benefits, in which 39.7 percent and 35.7 percent participated, respectively. The
lowest level of participation was in farm (0.5 percent) and business (0.5 percent) loans,
Veterans' Administration vocational rehabilitation (5 percent), and VA pensions (6.5 percent).
Approximately 11 percent of the black veterans were participating in either VA hospitalization
or had obtained home loans.
Another question had to do with adequacy of help black veterans receive when they seek
assistance from local agencies. Out of 199 veterans interviewed, 123, or 61.8 percent, had
sought assistance from the local VA office. Only eleven of the 123 said that they did not
get adequate assistance. Of the remaining 112 who did receive adequate assistance, the help
was in the following areas: educational or vocational training (seventy); home, farm, or
business loans (fifteen); disability or hospitalization (eight); life insurance (two); personal,
e.g., financial difficulties (five); general inquiry about veterans' benefits (nine); and
other forms of assistance (three). Six of the eleven who said they did not receive adequate
help went to the local VA office with a general inquiry about their benefits. Either these
veterans were mistaken about what they were entitled to receive or the local VA office was
more helpful to those who wanted specific types of assistance. In general, however, the
veterans seeking assistance at the VA office did in their judgment receive adequate help.
A different pattern emerges when one examines the help that other local agencies provided
black veterans seeking work. Ninety-two, or 46.2 percent of the 199 veterans, sought
assistance in finding work. Although there are a number of different agencies, veterans
primarily sought assistance from either the State Employment Service (seventy-three), or
the Urban League (fourteen). Of the 73 seeking employment at the State Employment Service,
only 33 thought they received adequate assistance. The Urban League provided better assistance
in finding work. Eleven out of 14 said the Urban League's help was adequate. These findings
are somewhat surprising. The Urban League had one person working only four days a month
helping black veterans find jobs, in contrast to the State Employment Service, which had
full-time veterans' specialists.
It appeared that the State Employment Service functioned primarily to meet the needs of
employers rather than to help men seeking work, i.e., men with good qualifications were sent
for job interviews with employers while the remainder filled out forms, took aptitude tests,
and were told that they would be called at some future date. If this is true, it should be
reflected in the previous work experience of the black veterans. Previous work experience
did make a difference. Fifty-two percent of those who had worked before entering the service
received help, compared to 26 percent who had no previous work experience.
Black veterans most likely to receive help at the State Employment office had already
developed some marketable skills in the military. The employment office was more likely to
find a veterans a job if he was a mechanic or truck driver than if he was trained specifically
for a combat assignment.6 In short, those who need the assistance the most were
frequently least likely to receive help.
The socioeconomic status of the recently returned black veteran is also of interest. Only
15.2 percent of the sample did not complete high school, and 24.8 percent completed one or
more years of schooling beyond high school. The median education level was 12.6 years.
Although figures suggest a relatively high level of educational attainment, 26 of the 187 in
the labor force, or 13.9 percent, were unemployed. According to the Department of Labor (26),
a man is "subemployed" if he works less than thirty-seven weeks during a
twelve-month period. On the basis of this definition, 67, or 34.8 percent, were subemployed.
Although this level of subemployment is about the same as that reported for black men who
live in the ghettos (16), the figure appears very high for the level of educational attainment
and veteran status of this sample.
Not only did they have high levels of unemployment and subemployment, but black veterans also
tended to be concentrated in the lower range of the occupational structure. Only twenty-seven,
or 13.6 percent, were in white-collar occupations. Thirty-two, or 16.1 percent, were foreman
or skilled blue-collar workers, and 102, or 51.3 percent, were semikilled or unskilled workers.
Twelve were full-time students. Both the concentration of veterans in semiskilled and
unskilled jobs and the relatively high level of unemployment suggest that some black veterans
were having difficulty in readjusting to civilian life. There was also a low level or
personal monthly income for the 177 who reported incomes. The median monthly income was
$394.50, or less than $100.00 a week. This information suggests that, although these veterans
had relatively high levels of educational attainment, a large minority did not appear to be
able to achieve an adequate and secure socioeconomic status.
In summary, we tried to answer the question, "Are black veterans 'making it' in
civilian life? After they had a chance to mature from adolescence by proving themselves
in military service, are they now encountering serious difficulties?" As with all
questions of this nature, there is no simple answer. The findings suggest, however, that
these veterans were having problems.
The black veterans had a relatively high level of educational attainment, with only 15.2
percent having dropped out of high school before graduation and 24.8 percent having a year
or more of schooling beyond high school. Even with this level of education, a significant
proportion of the black veterans were having difficulty working for a full year, earning
enough to support themselves or a family, and finding meaningful work that could provide
some security or the possibility of upward mobility. Almost 14 percent were unemployed,
and better than twice that number were subemployed. Only 65.2 percent had worked 38 weeks
or more during the previous twelve months, and their median income was less than $100.00 a
week. The majority were concentrated in semiskilled or unskilled jobs.
Alienation As A Response
A variety of terms have been used to describe black anger and discontent. Although there
are often different shades of meaning, concepts like "militancy" and
"alienation" are frequently used interchangeably. As a popular concept militancy
still tends to be used so loosely that it embraces too broad a range of activities. In
the black community, leaders ranging from the most conservative to the most radical like
to refer to themselves as militant agents for social change. In some instances, however,
the call to "radical" action may involve little more than getting out the vote
or working for political reform. Instead of using the term "militancy," we have
chosen to identify the angry mood of discontent as "black alienation." Within
this context we are not referring to the social-psychological conception that emphasizes
a passive estrangement from self and society. Rather, our concern is with a more profound
reaction to political processes and a sharper rejection of the values and institutions of
white America. Olsen has distinguished this manifestation of active political discontent
from political apathy. He describes alienation as follows:
The person feels that because of its very nature his social world is not worth participating
in. Alienation is voluntarily chosen by the individual as an attitude toward the
social system, as he realizes that the system does not provide worthwhile activities or
goals in social life [18:291-92].
Campbell has described this form of alienation as an orientation toward the world of politics
that is "not simply one of detachment, but of suspicion, distrust, hostility and
cynicism." He says, "These people believe that political process is a fraud and
a betrayal of public trust" [3:14]. Aldrich has commented:
Viewed in this light, alienation is transformed from a condition of the person's mind into
a condition of the political order, with the various political objects seen as symbols of
the individual's discontent [1:16].
Blacks who are alienated have specific objects of political distrust and bonds of identify
that make them a self-conscious collectivity. This type of collectivity has been described
as an alienated solitary group of people acting as potential partisans in the political
process. By Gamson's definition, this type of group represents "collections of
individuals who think in terms of the effect of political decisions on the aggregate and
feel that they are in some way personally affected by what happens to the aggregate"
(9:35). Because of the collective reinforcement of alienation, we would expect the
manifestation of black alienation to be different from that of white intellectuals,
blue-collar workers, white college students, or white veterans. While substantial segments
of all these groups may be alienated, each group's unique location in the social structure
creates a different perception of the sources of its alienation, as well as different
political and social remedies.
Black alienation was defined as an active rejection of white institutions and values, as
well as the support of those beliefs and representatives of the black community that foster
and encourage sentiments of black nationalism and separatism. Black alienation was
considered to be multidimensional, with six interrelated dimensions. It was measured by
means of a 28-item scale that consisted of six subscales, as set forth in Table 1.7
Distrust of authorities. The first dimension was distrust of white political
authorities. White political figures are regarded by many blacks as incompetent and inept
in achieving the collective goals of black people and thus as biased against blacks in
handling conflicts of interest (9). Distrust of white authorities apparently increases
with closer proximity to the authority figures. The two most distrusted authorities were
policemen (57 percent) and labor leaders (37 percent). Only two white authorities were
perceived with some degree of trust: congressmen (39 percent) and a member of a civil-rights
commission (56 percent).
Rejection of the public philosophy. The second dimension was the rejection of a
public philosophy that is believed to pay lip service to the beliefs in justice, equality,
and opportunity (9). Rejection of current public philosophy increased as it became more
abstract. Seventy-seven percent of the veterans believed that this nation is more concerned
with law and order than with justice, and 67 percent thought the concept of equal opportunity
was only a myth. Only 40 percent believed they were being judged on their abilities instead
of their race. Such a perception may be related closely to their individual experiences.
Positive black identification. The third dimension was positive black identification,
which referred to a set of attitudes that foster a separate social-psychological identity.
This process supplants traditional white values, concerns, and definitions of self with
alternatives that are principally or exclusively black. Positive racial pride was illustrated
by the 90 percent who believe that African history should be part of the curriculum for black
children, 65 percent who identified themselves first as black men and then as Americans, and
the 50 percent who considered "Afro" hairstyles appropriate for black women.
Support for structural change. The fourth dimension was support for leaders and
organizations that have rejected traditional militant reform efforts and advocated, in
their rhetoric and action, the restructuring of American society. Three leaders and five
organizations were selected because of their public rejection of the traditional reform
efforts of the black moderates and their advocacy in rhetoric and action of the racial
restructuring of American society. None of the leaders and only two of the organizations,
the Congress of Racial Equality (60 percent), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee (58 percent), were evaluated positively by a majority of the veterans. While
a majority of the veterans did not positively evaluate radical leaders and organizations,
the lowest level of support was 33 percent for both the Deacons for Defense and Justice
and the Black Muslims. It is also interesting to note the rather even split on the Black
Panthers. Of veterans who had opinions, 39 percent gave the Panthers a positive evaluation
and 40 percent a negative evaluation. Of three black leaders, Stokely Carmichael was given
a slightly more positive evaluation (43 percent) than H. Rap Brown (38 percent) or Malcolm X
Black separation. The fifth dimension was sentiment favorable to political and
social separation of blacks from white America. The general sentiment seemed to be that
blacks are more divided on the local level than on the national level about their control
of various social institutions. The trend was to prefer cooperation as they approached
the national level of social involvement. For example, only 11 percent of the respondents
believed blacks and whites can never live together peacefully.
Violence. The sixth dimension – sympathetic support for the use of violence
as a constraining influence on white society – drew substantial support. On the whole
the respondents seemed to reject violence as an instrument of social change, although a
substantial degree of apprehension seemed to be present, as indicated by the 58 percent who
agreed that a major race riot could easily break out in Jacksonville and the 36 percent who
said that violence was the only way for blacks to obtain their rights.
Upon examining the distribution of responses we found the majority of these black veterans
were not highly alienated. Only a large minority were highly alienated across all six
dimensions – about 40 percent. It should be noted, however, that the course of the
black protest movement during the past fifteen years has never been determined by majority
opinions. Instead, there have been vanguards of blacks that have been thrust into active
forms of participation when their particular qualifications and skills became important to
the evolving protest movement. Assuming a model of a two-step flow of communication, the
large minority of highly alienated veterans could become the opinion leaders for the black
community, particularly if black disenchantment with white America intensifies.
There are some data, however, that suggest that the minority of alienated veterans may be
becoming a majority. When he interviewed 392 black enlisted men in Vietnam, Wallace Terry
(23) found that 64 percent of them believed that their real fight was in the United States.
Only 38 percent agreed that weapons have no place in the blacks' struggle for their rights.
Nearly 50 percent said they would use weapons in the United States, while 13 percent said
they would consider arming themselves if forced to. Only 14 percent of the black soldiers
said they would follow without reservation orders to put down rebellions at home, and more
than 45 percent stated they would refuse such orders. In general, Terry found that black
soldiers were "fed up" with fighting and dying in a war they consider the white
man's folly. Their anger was not directed toward communism in Vietnam, but toward racism
in America. In short, the spirit of militancy has enveloped the black G.I. on the
battleground as much as it has the student on the college campus.
In our research (4, 7, 8) we found a number of variables related to the level of alienation
of black veterans. It was hypothesized that the level of alienation would be related to
the strains of serving in the military, the strains of adjusting to civilian life, and the
weak preventive social controls within the black community.
The measures of strains in the military that were significantly related to black alienation
were: (a) negative attitudes toward military service; (b) being drafted rather than enlisting
in the armed forces; (c) having a low investment in the military occupation as a career; and
(d) having few close white friendships while in the military. Combat duty in Vietnam was
also related to black alienation, although the association was not statistically significant.
Fifty-eight percent of those who served in Vietnam had high alienation scores, compared to
41 percent of those who did not serve in Vietnam.
The measures of strains in the adjustment process to civilian life that were related to
alienation were (a) the belief that other black veterans were having adjustment problems,
(b) perceived status inconsistency, (c) nonparticipation or lack of assistance from the
Veterans Administration, (d) nonparticipation in the G.I. bill or vocational rehabilitation
benefits, and (e) not seeking or not receiving help from private and public employment
agencies in finding work. These findings suggest that strains are generated by ineffective
efforts to assist black veterans in the adjustment to civilian life and by an inappropriate
allocation of socioeconomic rewards to black veterans. The measures of weak preventive
controls that were related to high levels of black alienation were being young, single,
and not actively involved in any religious organization.
Summary And Discussion
Part of the military parlance of the Vietnam War is the question, "How short are you?"
Generally this is an inquiry about how much time remains in a twelve-month tour of duty under
dreadful conditions. One black soldier, when asked this question, answered, "Man, I will
never be short." Judging by our findings on the difficulties in adjustment, the soldier
is correct. The veterans' benefits and assistance available do not appear to be adequate in
helping veterans become upwardly mobile. Even with relatively high levels of educational
attainment, black veterans were found to have difficulty finding work and earning enough
income to support themselves and their families. Almost 14 percent were unemployed, and
approximately twice that number were subemployed. Of those working, better than 50 percent
were concentrated in semiskilled or unskilled jobs. The median family income was less than
$100.00 a week. The results of the study suggest that a large minority of the veterans are
highly alienated across all six dimensions covered. These veterans could become a vanguard
for the black community, particularly if black disenchantment with white America intensifies.
In the beginning of this paper it was noted that black veterans could become the cutting
edge of the black protest movement. How radical the movement may become is difficult to
predict. We do know, however, that a necessary condition for joining a radical social
movement is a significant level of alienation from established societal values and institutions
(6, 13). Veterans like Robert Williams, who attempted reforms in Monroe, North Carolina,
before being chased into exile, and Ahmed Evans, whose guerrilla band fought it out with
Cleveland police, and veterans organizations such as the original group of Deacons for Defense
and Justice may be harbingers of the whirlwind of defensive and offensive violence in the future.
Authors like Killian (12) and Oppenheimer (19) have explored the possibility of expanding
black radical movements. They have examined the arguments about "why it can't happen
here" and found them lacking. Killian states that these arguments are rooted in the
beliefs that the United States political system rests upon a firm foundation of consensus on
basic democratic values; that there is remarkable flexibility or resilience in the political
structure and public institutions, which enables the system to maintain its coherence and
continuity in spite of crises and internal conflicts; and, finally, that the affluent majority
has the ability to wish away poverty. Effective counter arguments are presented for each
belief. The impossible black revolution may be indeed possible, if not successful (12).
Oppenheimer is critical of what he calls the three "establishment strategies" for
handling the racial crisis: (a) the repressive strategy, which creates a police state when it
feels threatened by increasingly dangerous social movement and demand for change; (b) the
two-war strategy, which attempts to bring about reforms by a war on poverty while at the same
time advocating the use of force in suppressing uprisings; and (c) the cooperation strategy,
in which there are attempts to establish a neo-colonial system of black capitalism and black
power. Oppenheimer believes that each strategy will prove to be incapable of solving the
racial crisis and, therefore, that a situation of potential revolution exists in the United
States (19). If these assessments prove to be correct, we believe black veterans will
contribute a significant proportion of the membership in that movement. Bensman has observed:
In every period of historical crisis there are groups, occupations, and classes who are
"accidentally" located in the "nutcrackers" of history. Such groups
experience in extreme form all the cross-pressures, tensions, and contradictions of a society
in the process of tearing itself apart [2:XV].
Because of both the qualifications that must be met before entering military service and
the organizational skills learned in the military, veterans are potentially well fitted to
assume leadership roles within existing reform programs, as well as in fighting city hall.
Admittedly, there is no clear way of foreseeing which drummer black veterans will follow.
Our vision may be clouded because we cannot see the legitimate opportunity structures opening
to black veterans. However, our projections are not without historical precedent. Colonial
soldiers returning to Algeria, Kenya, and other former colonies did become part of the vanguard
to destroy colonialism. Veterans like Medgar and Charles Evers were not content to be pushed
back into second-class citizenship when they returned from World War II. They were willing
to take up arms to obtain their rights (28). Who will suggest that Vietnam veterans will be
less demanding of institutional change and better opportunity structures?
1 Research for this paper was supported by Florida State University Research Council
Grant No. 20-036.
2 Ironically, the extent of black integration in combat units has become a source
of national embarrassment. In 1968, approximately 9.8 percent of the fighting men in Vietnam
were black, but they accounted for 20 percent of these on the front and 14.1 percent of the
3 A total of 945 names were derived from the various sample sources. The seven
agencies which provided names and addresses were: (a) Urban League Veterans Affairs Office,
(b) Urban League Employment files, (c) Edward Waters College, (d) Duval County Veterans'
Service Center, (e) Stanton Technical and Vocational High School, (f) local VA office, and
(g) the Jacksonville Opportunities and Industrialization Center. The "snowball
techniques" yielded a total of 354 names. The snowball techniques consisted of
(a) sending stamped postcards requesting names and addresses of black veterans who might
qualify for this study to the first four hundred names that were obtained, (b) requesting at
the end of each interview the names of additional black veterans who were discharged since
1963, and (c) asking potential interviewees for additional names and addresses. Of the total
of 945 names gathered, 188 were duplicates and 50 had incomplete addresses, leaving a final
total of 772 from which to draw the sample.
4 In the television appearance as well as the news announcements care was taken not
to bias the respondents. A short general message stated the purpose of the study of the
readjustment of black veterans to civilian life and the dates of the interviews.
5 Of the 57 persons sampled, but not interviewed, 28 (10.9 percent) had moved, 25
(9.7 percent) could not be located, 2 (0.78 percent) refused to be interviewed, and 2
(0.78 percent) questionnaires were invalidated. Two callbacks were made if the veteran was
not initially located.
6 Only 8 of 24 trained for combat duties were helped by the state employment service.
The distribution of those helped who had received further military training was: 2 of 4 in
food services, 2 of 6 in supply work, 1 of 2 in office work, 5 of 13 in communications, 6 of 7
machine operators, 3 of 5 mechanics, 1 of 4 medical personnel, and 5 of 8 who received other
types of military training.
7 Originally there were 29 items in the black-alienation scale. However, one item
which did not correlate strongly with the subtotal scale and total score was dropped.