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Chronicles of a Two-Front War

Civil Rights and Vietnam in the African American Press

Lawrence Allen Eldridge

Publication Year: 2012

 
During the Vietnam War, young African Americans fought to protect the freedoms of Southeast Asians and died in disproportionate numbers compared to their white counterparts. Despite their sacrifices, black Americans were unable to secure equal rights at home, and because the importance of the war overshadowed the civil rights movement in the minds of politicians and the public, it seemed that further progress might never come.  For many African Americans, the bloodshed, loss, and disappointment of war became just another chapter in the history of the civil rights movement.  Lawrence Allen Eldridge explores this two-front war, showing how the African American press grappled with the Vietnam War and its impact on the struggle for civil rights.

 

Written in a clear narrative style, Chronicles of a Two-Front War is the first book to examine coverage of the Vietnam War by black news publications, from the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 to the final withdrawal of American ground forces in the spring of 1973 and the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975.  Eldridge reveals how the black press not only reported the war but also weighed its significance in the context of the civil rights movement.

 

The author researched seventeen African American newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the Baltimore Afro-American, and the New Courier, and two magazines, Jet and Ebony.  He augmented the study with a rich array of primary sources—including interviews with black journalists and editors, oral history collections, the personal papers of key figures in the black press, and government documents, including those from the presidential libraries of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford—to trace the ups and downs of U.S. domestic and wartime policy especially as it related to the impact of the war on civil rights.

 

Eldridge examines not only the role of reporters during the war, but also those of editors, commentators, and cartoonists. Especially enlightening is the research drawn from extensive oral histories by prominent journalist Ethel Payne, the first African American woman to receive the title of war correspondent.  She described a widespread practice in black papers of reworking material from major white papers without providing proper credit, as the demand for news swamped the small budgets and limited staffs of African American papers.  The author analyzes both the strengths of the black print media and the weaknesses in their coverage.

 

The black press ultimately viewed the Vietnam War through the lens of African American experience, blaming the war for crippling LBJ’s Great Society and the War on Poverty.  Despite its waning hopes for an improved life, the black press soldiered on.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

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Introduction

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pp. 1-7

On the morning of August 2, 1964, Captain John J. Herrick, skipper of the American destroyer Maddox, steered his warship to within ten miles of North Vietnam’s Red River delta on the western edge of the Gulf of Tonkin. The sea was calm and the day was clear, but Herrick was edgy. Before dawn his ship had encountered a flotilla of Vietnamese junks. Unsure of the enemy’s intentions, ...

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1. Bringing the News Home

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pp. 8-17

Vietnam swarmed with reporters. Newspaper correspondents began filing stories from the combat zone early in the war. A few, like David Halberstam of the New York Times, became journalistic superstars who wrote compelling pieces that began to define the Vietnam story for millions of readers and to deepen hostility toward the media within the Johnson administration. After ...

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2. Vietnam and the Great Society: The Two-Front War

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pp. 18-44

The black press frequently dealt with the competing demands of the Southeast Asian war and the Great Society as both clamored for the government’s money and attention. Lyndon Johnson pushed hard for an ambitious program of reforms designed to redress the centuries-old grievances of African Americans, even as he led the United States into an escalating war...

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3. Fueling the Anger: The Draft and Black Casualties

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pp. 45-72

During the buildup of forces in Vietnam, the initial response of the black press was generally supportive of the draft. Sometimes the support was effusive. An editorial in the Baltimore Afro-American during the spring of 1965 saw the draft and the military service that followed as an engine of progress for the black community: “Whether they wanted to or not, millions of men...

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4. African American Opposition to the War in Vietnam

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pp. 73-93

When Martin Luther King Jr. was released from jail in Selma, Alabama, on February 5, 1965, he confided to reporters that he would be meeting with President Johnson to urge the passage of strong voting rights legislation so African Americans like those in Selma, for whose cause King had gone to jail, would be guaranteed their rights as American citizens. The very next ...

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5. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Globalization of Black Protest

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pp. 94-124

Martin Luther King Jr. had been conflicted for some time about how directly he should challenge American policy in Vietnam. For two years he had actively supported efforts to find a peace that could be secured within the framework of U.S. regional interests through negotiations. But such negotiations...

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6. “We’re with You, Chief ”: The Black Press and LBJ

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pp. 125-155

Despite the increasingly sharp antiwar sentiments of certain African American leaders, most notably Martin Luther King Jr., and the parallel growth in opposition to the war among African Americans generally, political support for President Lyndon Johnson among blacks generally remained remarkably steadfast. Throughout his presidency he retained his personal ...

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7. The Black Press and Vietnam in the Nixon Years

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pp. 156-185

With the notable exception of the redoubtably Republican Atlanta Daily World, African American newspapers generally viewed the election of Richard Nixon with sentiments ranging from disappointment to alarm. The Chicago Daily Defender, for example, greeted Nixon’s election glumly. On November 7, 1968, the paper published a cartoon that took up the entire front page of ...

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8. Race Relations in an Integrated Military

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pp. 186-205

The black soldiers who fought through the sporadic firefights and long stretches of tedium were also foot soldiers in the larger battle for human rights in which all black Americans were desperately engaged. The risks the black soldiers endured, the wounds they suffered, and the deaths they died became part of the currency used to animate the rhetoric and purchase the ...

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9. The Black Press and the Vietnam War

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pp. 206-214

The interplay of the war in Vietnam and unrealized African American expectations fundamentally defined the way the black press viewed the conflict. The war came to dominate the national agenda just as the civil rights movement appeared to be on the brink of realizing long-deferred black hopes for full equality. America seemed poised to yield, at long last, to the...

Notes

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pp. 215-250

Bibliography

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pp. 251-276

Index

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pp. 277-285

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC


E-ISBN-13: 9780826272591
E-ISBN-10: 0826272592
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219398
Print-ISBN-10: 082621939X

Page Count: 299
Illustrations: 12 cartoons
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1