Black History at Western Reserve Historical Society
My husband, daughter and I recently visited the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) in Cleveland’s University Circle to view the Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era exhibit. Since the multimedia exhibit opened last May, I’ve wanted to see it. My father is a US Army veteran, and earned a bronze star medal for his service in Vietnam. He speaks about his experiences in Vietnam often, and I wanted to learn more about how other black veterans viewed there time there.
I find it most honorable that my father, grandfathers and great-grandfathers all risked their lives in combat for the United States, but I feel especially proud that they continued to believe in their country, even though they did not have the same equal rights as their fellow soldiers abroad and back at home. And because of this, I was compelled to learn more about the African-American men and women who engaged in battle in Vietnam.
The Soul Soldiers exhibit, based on the book Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era, helps tell the story of the black Vietnam soldier by bringing to life poetry, oral histories, photographs, art and an original documentary. While I’ve read my dad’s letters to my mother while he was at war, seen his photos and heard his stories, I can now further appreciate the struggles and the hope of black armed forces in Vietnam. My husband and I particularly enjoyed listening to the music of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s at the exhibit’s audio stations. The music, coupled with the exhibit setting, gave some of our favorite songs new meaning. And while our daughter is still too young to comprehend war, or that we were even visiting WRHS for that matter, I’m happy that she is being exposed to history and culture already.
While we were at WRHS, we also viewed the Allen E. Cole Collection of photographs. Cole was a prominent photographer whose work chronicled black life in Cleveland from 1919 to the mid-1960s. If you are looking for ways to commemorate Black History Month this February, a good place to start is the Western Reserve Historical Society. But don’t let your thirst for knowledge about the African-American experience end on February 28. Soul Soldiers runs through June 5, and WRHS is the permanent home to the Allen E. Cole Collection.