Recently, I noticed the connections between Toni Morrison’s Sula and her newest novel, Home. In both novels, Morrison captures both the pain and sheer violence that African American veterans still endure many years after they have returned home from combat. Whether it is Shadrack-the shell shocked veteran of World War 1 who institutes “National Suicide Day” or Frank Money-the 24 year old Korean War Veteran who simply wanted to escape “the worst place in the world”, both narrative emphasize the lasting horrors and enduring trauma of war.
What is most interesting to me is that Morrison’s work is just a part of a larger African American continuum from Chester Himes to Junius Edwards. All of their work, to some extent, depicts the impact of racial, psychological, and personal problems of African American soldiers.
I have compiled a list of four novels by African American writers that place an emphasis on black men who were affected by participating in American wars.
If He Holler Let Him Go (1945) by Chester Himes
The novel gives a fictional account of being black in America during the early days of World War II. Robert Jones-the novel’s protagonist attempts to fight a personal war against racism in a society that is drenched in race consciousness. At the end of the story he is accused of a violent crime he did not commit. After finding himself in jail, Robert Jones has the option of remaining there or going to the Army to fight in the war.
If We Must Die (1961) by Junius Edwards
The self-esteem of the protagonist of the novel-a Korean War veteran, is contrasted with the white voter registrar, who refuses to allow the veteran to register on the grounds that he lied about being a member of the Army Reserve. The veterans is later beaten and threatened with castration. The novel further illustrates the dehumanization of African Americans who were up against the southern white power structure during the 1950’s and the violence that ensued if any African American were perceived as a threat to this structure.And
And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963) by John O Killens
The novel portrays the lives of black soldiers during World War II. Killens commands attention for his detailed attention and depiction of life in segregated Army units and for his honest account of how black soldiers were both loyal to their country and outraged at the very country that denied them the very rights for which they fought.
Captain Black Man (1972) by John Williams
In his exhaustive and historical approach, John A. Williams is accurate in his research of the prominent role African Americans played in the military. Captain Blackman is a U.S. solider in Vietnam who becomes seriously wounded. As he drifts in and out of consciousness he hallucinates back in time as a soldier in each of America’s wars from 1775 to 1975.