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Source: Nulsen Jr., Charles K. Rap It Out. Army Digest 25, no. 11(November 1970): 4-9. Nulsen Jr., Charles K. "Rap It Out." Army Digest 25, no. 11 (November 1970): 4-9.

SuDoc No.: D101.12

This article details the findings of a series of "interracial or human relations seminars" held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Through the seminars came the realization that the military was only a reflection of the society it served so that it was inevitable that African-Americans with a strong sense of pride would enter the military. Identified as a problem was the lack of understanding of African-American culture by white commanders. Prejudices in promotions, hair styles, off base housing, and in reading materials were also cited as problems.

The article recognized three dangers in this situation: "1) Over reaction to a situation that may already be in hand, 2) Generating unattainable expectations for soldiers of minority groups, 3) And fanning, rather than cooling, the flames of racial tension." It was suggested that although these seminars seemed to help with the communication problem, more could be done to help bring about an understanding between the races.


"The Army is but a reflection of American society."

This statement is frequently heard among the interracial seminars held at Fort Bragg, N.C., where there appears to be a general consensus that individual racial attitudes are shaped and set in the homes and [] community before the soldier reaches the induction station.

Thus, the problem with which the Army is faced consists not solely of teaching nonprejudiced attitudes, but rather of breaking down old prejudices and then instilling enlightened racial attitudes. The latter is certainly the more formidable of the two challenges.

Few students of the situation would deny that the Army has a racial problem of growing proportion. Equally accepted is the fact that the problem is not totally of the Army's own doing. However, to be completely honest, there is a tinge of neglect born of past complacency, for the Army sometimes has been satisfied to coast on the precedent-shattering success of the first de facto countrywide integration of the races in the early fifties. (See "Soldiers Look at Race Relations," April 1970 Army Digest.)

This bit of self-assurance coupled with the "no problem" attitude of many commanders in the past, has caused a momentary lag in the Army's sensitivity toward the needs of minority races.

Perhaps the basic cause for foot-dragging has been a lack of communications between the races, which is aggravated by a lack of understanding between the young and the old. The racial problem is actually two dimensional – color and age, with day and night, or duty and social, complications.

Many NCOs and officers 25 and over have never openly and frankly discussed racial feelings with their soldiers. The manifestations of the new black pride are not yet understood, and consequently many times are attacked impulsively by suppression rationalized as discipline. Establishing interracial communication channels with open and frank discussions appeared to be the best way to tackle this problem. This is exactly what the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff decided to try.

Following instructions of the Chief of Staff to the field in November 1969, Fort Bragg began a series of interracial or human relations seminars.

The corps seminar committee was chaired by a colonel from the XVIII Airborne Corps staff, who acted also as seminar moderator, and consisted of a lieutenant colonel from the corps staff, a sergeant from the corps Inspector General's office, a chaplain, a captain trained as a social psychologist from Womack Army Hospital, and a specialist 4 from the corp Judge Advocate's office. (Four members were white and two black.)

Fort Bragg held 16 seminars over an 8-day period in December 1969. Eight seminars were held with personnel in grades E-1 through E-4; four with grades E-5 through E-9; and four with officers. Within each group of 15 to 20 men, blacks and whites were about equally represented, with soldiers of Spanish-American and Indian extraction also included.

Four major units at Fort Bragg were represented at the seminars – the 82d Airborne Division, the John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, the 12th Support Brigade, and the U.S. Army Training Center. The committee spent 2 days with each major unit.

Each session lasted about 3 hours. The discussions usually began to warm up and gather momentum after the first hour. Enthusiastic groups discussions during the coffeebreak were of such value that the moderator would delay reconvening the more formal proceedings. The session following the coffeebreak was generally more animated and productive than the discussion which preceded it.

Each seminar was opened by announcing the objectives – each individual was free to speak out on the issue of racial prejudice within the Army as he personally saw it; there would be no name taking or personal incrimination since the seminar's value depended on open and candid discussions. It was emphasized that the seminar groups was there primarily to listen rather than to debate.

Overall Assessment. Each session was unique in the way in which the participants spoke out. Among the observations, one was that varying degrees of black/white tensions do exist in all units. These tensions are predominantly influenced by the makeup and background of the young soldiers in the unit, the attitudes of the unit NCOs and officers, and the non-mission workload of the unit.

Unit commanders who had reported that they had no racial problems, actually meant that they were unaware of them or that they were managing tensions within the unit. While some black soldiers thought that racial tensions were at the explosive level, most evidence pointed to the fact that the situation was not dangerously volatile. Some tensions, it was noted, were at a point that warranted immediate concern.

The current intensification of racial feelings between black and white soldiers is a result of the present social environment within the United States which, among other things, is producing a better educated, more articulate, and impatient young man.

Much of the young black soldiers' outspoken philosophy is directly identifiable with the writings of such men as Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. They basically desire to be identified with a new black pride for which they are constantly seeking historical evidence and visible symbolism. Many young black soldiers have been indoctrinated with the idea that to remain within the white man's social structure will mean they will be forever subservient to the white man. To break away from the establishment, and from the white man's culture, means feeling black pride, regaining manhood, and a type of soul-cleansing that they cannot otherwise obtain by continuing in the ways of their forebears.

Many feel that manifestations of the new black pride should be recognized within the Army. Anything short of this means conformity to an "Uncle Tomism" which they have learned to despise.

Outward appearances of black pride are "Afro" haircuts, mustaches, soul music, and continued rhetoric against the white man's imperialist and competitive society. Rightly or wrongly, they view the war in Vietnam as a white man's war in which the majority of people who are fighting and dying are black. These are but a few of the generalized anxieties uncovered by the seminar committee. Some of the specific allegations were as follows:
  • The Army institutionalizes racism or prejudice.
It was frequently stated that the approved ways of seeking redress or being heard are bureaucratic and outdated. The Inspector General's and the commander's open-door policy were consistently under attack. The enlisted men felt that complaining to the Inspector General only resulted in the inspector telephoning back to the man's commander, thus putting the original problem back into the command channels from which it originally came.

The open-door policy was under attack for not achieving its intended purpose. Either the first sergeant would place obstacles in the way of enlisted men seeking to speak to the commander, or the man would not attempt to see his commander because of the time limitations set up by the stated open-door policy. Many men felt that, even though they did get to speak to their commanders, there was not much understanding of racial pride involved.
  • The Army placement system is based on white educational standards.
Interviewers and Adjutant General placement specialists are put in a bind when selecting men for skilled jobs, the men often felt, because most black men did not measure up to the desired level of education. As a consequence, most black soldiers were put into non-skill infantry MOSs, they claimed.
  • White commanders and NCOs lack the proper understanding and/or sensitivity toward the background and aspirations of black soldiers.
It was pointed out that many white commanders felt that black literature was subversive, and that finding black literature in wall lockers immediately labeled the soldier as a militant.

Also criticized and resented was the practice of transferring black troublemakers to black NCOs or officers, and telling those in charge that they could better handle someone of their own race.
  • While NCOs are in charge of barracks, they invariably live outside the unit area.
This might be termed as the "absentee landlord syndrome." It is claimed that there is a command breakdown in the barracks at night that sometimes results in black and white privates letting off steam and promoting racially inspired incidents.

Another symptom of this syndrome was the feeling by some of the enlisted personnel that they should have some voice in the way things were arranged, since they lived in the barracks and the NCOs did not. Army traditions that are viewed as impractical and outdated can cause tensions which can develop into racial unrest.
  • Tensions may be generated by lack of job satisfaction – i.e. pulling too much guard, KP, police details – which gives rise to racial anxieties.
Many men felt that, when entire units were not performing their mission became overloaded with post details, the resulting lowered morale would inevitably lead to interracial clashes.
  • Prejudices exist in promotion systems and inequities in Article 15 punishment.
These two complaints could not be supported as general practice throughout Fort Bragg, because most of the men cited personally-slanted examples of prejudice against the black soldiers that prevented them from being promoted, or resulted in harsher punishment than the white soldier who had committed the same offense.
  • A major discussion point at all seminars was the haircut problem.
Among the older NCOs and officers, there appeared to be no difficulty in accepting the need for short Army haircuts, and many argued that to be more permissive toward the old standards would result in major disciplinary problems. Most of the younger men argued for freedom in individual hair styles, and they attacked the traditional short Army haircut.
  • Many of the blacks of all ages and grades stated they are trying to obtain a greater visibility for the black man in command and technical positions.
They expressed a desire to see more black company and battalion commanders and more black clerks in so-called white collar positions.
  • Many black soldiers and officers felt the Army should have some special preparatory training for blacks whose prior education was not adequate to qualify them for officer candidate or hard-skill MOS schools.
They felt that American society in general, and the Army in particular, owes the black man a more equal chance to obtain higher training. The proposed preparatory training should be instituted to lessen the difference between civilian white education and the so-called black inferior education. Many felt that training would, in fact, help close the education gap for the black man.
  • Other racial groups had complaints also.
Many of the white soldiers complained that black soldiers were getting a better than even break because of their color. They tend to feel there is so much pressure placed by commanders on not wanting to show prejudice that black soldiers are often selected for promotions or good jobs based on their race rather than their ability.

By and large, the soldiers of Spanish-American and Indian extraction expressed opinions that they feel the same prejudices as the black soldiers. However, they feel that both the blacks and whites are prejudiced against them.

Aside from these conclusions, many of the soldiers presented emotional, and at times seemingly irrational, themes which appeared to be based on misinformation or lack of information.

The notion was sometimes espoused that there was a directed conspiracy by the Army to send black soldiers to Vietnam and further assign them to combat units as part of an overall plan of genocide. Many such arguments did not appear rational to the seminar panel, but were obviously a reflection of the real fears of some black soldiers.

Three Dangers. The seminar group recognized three inherent dangers in taking specific action to reduce racial tensions in the Army. These were: overreaction to a situation that may already be in hand; generating unattainable expectations for soldiers of minority groups; and fanning, rather than cooling, the flames of racial tension.

However, it was realized that even worse than the apparition of these dangers would be the inexcusable failure to do anything at all. Realizing the necessity to override these possible dangers, the committee recommended five general areas in which action could be taken to improve racial harmony:
  • Bring problems into the open in a frank, uninhibited manner, through discussions.

  • A more positive approach by commanders in talking to their men, rather than relying on the passive open-door policy.

  • Sensitivity training to provide white leaders with information as to exactly what the young minority group man wants, and why he wants it.

  • Continuing programs to provide members of minority groups with greater visibility and recognition of past accomplishments, such as classes in heritage, inclusion in training films, and recognition in post newspapers.

  • Improving environmental factors, such as eliminating the condition of too many post details, and attempting to provide more job satisfaction.
Fort Bragg set out on a program incorporating the above actions to improve racial harmony. By March 1970, all major subordinate units had held seminars at battalion and separate company/batter level. The consensus has been that the seminars have provided an emotional release for many who had developed anxieties concerning racial prejudice and who were unable to obtain satisfaction in previous attempts to discuss racial problems.

At the same time, the open discussions have provided commanders and small unit leaders with new notions on how the young Negro, the Indian, and the Spanish-American feel about their racial background. In this connection, many units conducted sensitivity sessions for their commanders on the premise that an informed commander is better able to handle racial tensions.

Studies have been made in satisfying the new self-pride of the black soldier. Classes in Swahili and Afro-American history are now offered by the Fort Bragg Education Center. The Special Services libraries have made a concerted effort to increase the number of books dealing with the problems and accomplishments of minority races. The post exchange has increased its stockage of those items that appeal primarily to the black soldier and his family.

Source: Nulsen Jr., Charles K. "Rap It Out." Army Digest 25, no. 11(November 1970): 4-9.

All units have increased the number of black periodicals available in the dayrooms, and a concerted effort has been made by the editors of the post newspaper to publish articles on black history and black culture. There also has been an effort to obtain a balanced representation of the minority group soldier and his family in pictures in the post newspaper.

All in all, progress in improving race relations at Fort Bragg has been perceptible. The drive to open lines of communication between military men of all races, superiors and subordinates, old and young, has begun to pay dividends. The idea of leading from a position of being informed on racial matters is gaining increasing acceptance.

While it is perhaps too early to tell whether the Fort Bragg program will be a complete success, there is every indication that speaking about racial tensions openly and frankly, and making commanders more aware of the causes of racial tension, is the right approach to improving race relations within the Army.

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