'The Black G.I.': Twitter leads Chicago-area family to Vietnam Marine's 1969 reflections on race

Michelle Gallardo Image
Sunday, August 2, 2020
'The Black G.I.': Twitter leads Chicago-area family to Vietnam Marine's 1969 reflections on race
A tweet led a Country Club Hills family to a Vietnam soldier's reflections on race.

COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, Ill. (WLS) -- Social media is connecting a Chicago-area family to its roots.

A video recently tweeted shows Sylvester Bracey talking about racism while he was a soldier during the Vietnam War.

The clip is part of a documentary called "The Black G.I."

By chance, Bracey's grandson saw it.

"There's a lot of brothers here," Bracey can be heard saying in 1969. "This man has got an afro right here, or somewhat of an afro. It's not big. But they want us to wear a skin fade. What do they call it? A high and tight. That's not my culture. Am I right or am I wrong?"

Bracey was interviewed as part of an hour-long documentary called "The Black G.I." while he was serving in Vietnam. It is footage that, until last week, his family had only ever heard about, but never seen. Bracey died in December of last year.

"We searched and we hoped and we prayed, and he wanted this video to surface all of his life, and then eight months after he died it surfaced," Bracey's son Sylvester Bracey Jr. said. "He had no idea. We had no idea that this footage was in the Smithsonian African American Museum in D.C."

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It is Sylvester Bracey's grandson, Sylvester Bracey III, who found the video while scrolling through his Twitter feed.

"Wait, the man speaking is my granddad," he exclaimed of the post, which has already garnered hundreds of thousands of likes.

"I got a little choked up seeing him, especially in his prime," Sylvester Bracey III said. "He was only 19, 20 in that video. To hear him talking as frankly and as honestly and as smoothly and eloquently ... it filled me with a lot of pride because that sounds like me, talking about things today."

The documentary's purpose was to highlight the experiences of African American men, like Sylvester Bracey, in the Vietnam War, particularly when it came to issues of racism. He was a Marine who did not wait to be drafted. He volunteered, serving two tours of duty between 1967 and 1970.

"My granddad was a student. He was a student of the world. He went over there to learn as much as he could and to bring back as much as he could," Sylvester Bracey III said.

Sylvester Bracey Jr. agreed.

"In 'Nam or in the Marines, it was a microcosm of the United States, the same injustices and the same inadequacies. ... There are so many nuggets, so much to glean from that. I'm just proud that was my father," he said.