In 1969, Curt Standifer, a U.S. soldier stationed in Vietnam, wrote in his journal, “Why should I, a brother of soul, whose war is on the streets in the States, be here?” Standifer’s entry perfectly encapsulates the mission of the DuSable Museum’s latest exhibit, “Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era.” The exhibit dissects the dichotomy of soldiers fighting a war for civil rights abroad when they are denied those same rights at home. African Americans who dodged Viet Cong bullets in the rice fields outside Hanoi returned home only to be lynched by the Klu Klux Klan. Whispers of a bygone era saturate the small, sectioned space—from the chop of Huey Helicopters to the evolution of the soldiers’ brotherhood sign language, the “dap.” Artifacts include army fatigues, prisoner-of-war cards, propaganda posters and draft letters. Patrons can watch the exhibit’s accompanying documentary, “The Soul of Vietnam” in a viewing area done up like an army bunker, complete with camouflage netting. Also of note is the 1967 “Vietnam” comic book by Julian Bond, which illustrates the colonial history of the Southeast Asian country, as well as the anti-war protests strong ties with the civil rights movement. “Soul Soldiers” glosses over the political and strategic details of America’s involvement in Vietnam in favor of a cultural look at the time period. The exhibit is a comprehensive testament to the ongoing struggle for freedom, both at home and abroad. (Laura Hawbaker)
“Soul Soldiers” runs at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 East 56th Place, through July 27.