Directed by
Garrett, Kent, American, born 1941
Produced by
Greaves, William, American, 1926 - 2014
National Educational Television, American, 1954 - 1970
Subject of
Bennett, L. Howard, American, 1913 - 1993
Bracey, Sylvester Sr., American, ca. 1949 - 2019
Owned by
Bowser, Pearl, American, 1931 - 2023
acetate film
Duration: 50 Minutes
Length (Film): 1,800 Feet
The Black G.I. is a two-part documentary episode of the television series Black Journal. It focuses on the experiences of African-American soldiers in the Vietnam War. This film features frank and open discussions from soldiers, ranked officers, and politicians about the racism that defined the different experiences black soldiers had in this war.
This 16mm color film is an hour-long documentary segment of Episode No. 22 of the NET (National Educational Television) television program Black Journal, a weekly public television newsmagazine in the late 1960s/early 1970s that examined the many issues pertinent to the black American experience at the time. It was originally broadcast on March 30, 1970, and is believed to have been filmed over the course of 1969. Episode No. 22 of Black Journal was directed by Stan Lathan, while the "Black G.I." segment was directed by Kent Garrett. Executive Produced by William Greaves.
This film opens with a narration over images of African American men in the history of the US military. The first moving image section shows African American men fighting during World War II. The narrator discusses the irony of African American men fighting for freedom in Europe while not enjoying the same freedoms in the US. There are multiple shots of the Tuskegee Airmen. Eleanor Roosevelt pins (unknown) medal on African American soldier. Next, newsreel footage of Joe Louis arriving at an airbase and greeting black troops. The narrator then talks about the desegregation of the US military during the Korean War and points out the lack of black soldiers in leadership positions. Color footage marks the transition of the narration to coverage of the Vietnam War. Two African American soldiers in civilian clothing with soul power patches can be seen dapping. Series of brief excerpts from interviews of black soldiers play, each stating their position on being black and in the military during the Vietnam War. The narrator reveals the disproportionate percentage of black men who are killed in action versus their white counterparts. There are multiple shots of combat and post-combat footage in Vietnamese rice fields and footage of riverside villages. Two sailors patrol a river and discuss their experience in Vietnam thus far and what they'll do when they get home. They discuss their mission and how to be black while being in the military. A girl group performs at the USO in Saigon. Tanks and armored personnel carriers patrol suspected enemy locations along border with North Vietnam. Sailors on a patrol boat open fire at the riverbank and a confederate flag can be seen flying from a flagpole on board. Black sailors discuss cultural challenges of being in the Navy and the lack entertainment geared towards black musical tastes of the time. One sailor talks about being disciplined for getting into an altercation after a white sailor ripped his tape player from the wall for playing soul music. The narrator reveals that an all-white court martial found the sailor, Bobby Jenkins, guilty of assault, demoted him and docked his pay. A sailor relays that he and other African Americans met with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for civil rights to discuss their poor treatment and were promised changes by the Assistant Secretary. The sailors talk about how some local Vietnamese have adopted some of the negative perceptions of African Americans, which some black sailors believe they learned from some white members of the military. The sailors discuss how their hands are tied when it comes to standing up for their rights as sailors on a patrol boat dap and salute the camera with black/soul power fists. Air Force fighter pilot, John Bordeaux, discusses his personal experience of not facing the same discrimination expressed by other African American military personnel. Two black career Army officers, Davis and Rogers, discuss the systematic discrimination they've faced; in particular, they recall incidents of being passed over for promotions despite strong credentials. Brigadier General Frederick E. Davison, the first African American combat general, rejects the assertion that an African American who succeeds in the military is an Uncle Tom and discusses the many actions that the Army has taken to ensure equal treatment and opportunities. A cover of "Sittin' on a Dock in the Bay" plays over a montage of black soldiers in the field. A group of black Marines in a mess hall at Camp Hansen, Okinawa discuss the unfair treatment they've experienced, such as being forced to wear a collared shirt with their dashikis and not being allowed to wear their hair in an afro. One marine relates an incident in which they were violently confronted after returning from a USO show that primarily featured soul music. There is a series of shots of shops in Koza "Four Corners", Okinawa geared towards African American soldiers. Another group of soldiers discuss their dissatisfaction with being drafted to fight in Vietnam despite social and economic discrimination at home, and being harassed and targeted as being "troublesome" if they decide to attend country music night at local clubs. L. Howard Bennett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, discusses how black soldiers complaining about the lack of soul music are expressing grievances beyond simply entertainment selection and dissatisfaction with communication in the chain of command. He also states his opinion that black soldiers fighting for the US puts them in a better position to demand equal rights at home.
Place filmed
H? Chí Minh, Viet Nam, Asia
Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Asia
Arlington County, Virginia, United States, North and Central America
Collection title
Pearl Bowser Collection
Black Journal
Time-based Media - Moving Images
sound films
color films (visual works)
16mm (photographic film size)
Documentary films
Mass media
Public television
Race discrimination
Race relations
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Pearl Bowser
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
© National Educational Television
Permission required for use. Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.

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