Date of Award

Fall 10-4-2021

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Rebecca Tuuri

Committee Member 3

Heather Stur

Committee Member 3 School



Since the founding of the United States, African Americans have sacrificed their lives to uphold the nation’s democratic ideals, all while being denied equal access to voting, education, employment, and housing rights at home. Military service appealed to many African Americans who hoped it would lead to social and economic advancement for themselves and their race. Despite African American military participation throughout the nation’s history, these soldiers were treated as outsiders through segregated units and often relegated to non-combative duties, until the Vietnam War. This was the first major conflict in which African Americans had been deployed in large numbers in non-segregated units and placed in combat roles. Black soldiers’ role in war transformed during the Vietnam era and helped give rise to black military leadership. Out of the 389,344 members of the officer corps only two percent of them were African American. Though the percentage is small, this increase was significant. This study seeks to provide a better understanding as to how this two percent of black leadership navigated the Vietnam War. In addition to officers, the study will also examine the experiences of higher-ranking noncommissioned soldiers who obtained one the ranks of sergeant or above. Previous studies of African American leadership primarily focused on leaders within the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements with little attention being given to black military leadership. Therefore, another element of this thesis is to examine the influence of the Black Power Movement on African American soldiers and their leadership. This thesis seeks to demonstrate how African American leadership during the Vietnam era transformed black leadership and the American military.