Oral history is subjective but a valuable research methods, the author said.
By Deandra Gonzalez
History Adjunct Isaac Hampton II said African-American soldiers faced racial tension in the Vietnam Era at the African American Read-in Feb. 22 in the library performance area of Moody Learning Center.
The read-in was part of Black History Month in keeping with the theme “African- Americans In Times of War.”
He is the author of “The Black Officer Corps: A Military Advancement from Integration Through Vietnam” published by Routledge in November 2012.
Instead of reading excerpts from his book, he discussed issues between military personnel of different races and the value of oral history in research.
Hampton said that when it came to promotions, African-Americans were overlooked in competition with white officers even though they were in ROTC programs.
In 1973, Hampton said, there were 19 historically black colleges and universities that had ROTC programs. Of that, 75 percent of participants came to be officers who had trouble moving up.
Hampton shared an audio clip of an interview with Dr. Douthard Butler, graduate of Prairie View A&M University, retired U.S. Army colonel and government professor at George Mason University.
Bulter described going from segregation at a HBCU school to integration in the officer basic course.
“This when I learned that talent is distributed equally amongst all races and cultures. The problem is the ability to develop or demonstrate the talent is not equal. That’s the problem,” Butler said.
Hampton also shared an interview from Michael T. Gardner, U.S Marine and Vietnam veteran, discussing how he received the Purple Heart.
Gardner described being left at his post by his partner when they were both supposed to be standing watch. Gardner said he fell asleep, and when he woke up, there was a grenade explosion right after he was able to put his helmet on.
Gardner said he was injured by flash burns and was told by a white sergeant that he would be OK.
“I got wounded because of a black man, and I got taken care of because of a white man,” Gardner said.
Hampton said Gardner’s experience helped him know that there were good and bad people.
Hampton suggested reading older newspapers and talking to older people with experience.
“Learning about other genders, other ethnic groups history, can tell you about yourself, and it can tell you how the nation solved things,” Hampton said. “Oral history can be highly subjective when you go and talk to people about their experiences from the past, but that’s also a great strength.
“When you think about oral history, it, therefore, tells us not just what people did but what they intended to do, what they believed they were doing and what they now think that they did.”
Hampton is writing a second book with a tentative title “They Were Black in Navy Too,” that looks at the U.S. Navy 1960-1990 and will touch on policy, race and class.
Hampton hopes to release the book in two years.