The documentary highlights systemic racism in awarding military honors to Black soldiers

PR Newswire

“We don’t give negroes purple hearts,” these are the stinging words that Jerry Smith Sr., a Black Vietnam War veteran, recalls being told as he was denied a Purple Heart Medal—a symbol of valor meant for those wounded or killed in enemy action. Today, that denial continues to serve as a sharp reminder of the racial discrimination that permeated even the ranks of those serving their country. A new documentary, “In Honor of a Purple Heart,” seeks to confront this historical injustice head-on.

Eric Scott Johnson, the producer of the film, which has garnered awards at various festivals, emphasizes the broader mission: “This is about Jerry Smith Sr. getting what was wrongfully withheld from him solely due to his race.” The documentary is not just a call for recognition but a stark illumination of the systemic racism that tainted the military honor system.

The prejudice Smith faced was not confined to the battlefield. Before being drafted, he experienced the cruel realities of racism in America. His life intertwined with tragedy early on when his cousin, Emmett Till, became an emblematic victim of racial violence in 1955. Later, a baseless accusation compelled Smith to flee his university, losing his scholarship, and ultimately leading him to Vietnam.

Despite the relentless efforts of Smith’s family and fellow veterans like John Hammond, and advocacy from VFW Post 1677 Commander Hughes Byrne, the pleas for rectification have been met with inaction. “We have an injustice happening here and it’s in their power to change it,” Byrne insists, calling on politicians and the military to address the overdue honor.

The film serves as a catalyst in the fight to right the wrongs of the past, amplifying Smith’s story and the broader issues of racial inequality within the military. For those moved by Smith’s ongoing struggle and the film’s powerful message, a petition for justice is available at

The full documentary, which brings Smith’s harrowing and poignant narrative to light, can be accessed at the provided YouTube link, offering audiences an intimate look at the personal cost of systemic racism and the unwavering spirit of those who seek to challenge it.

Follow @coolbruthas to engage in the dialogue on racial equality and honor. And remember to Stay Fresh, Stay True.

Gorilla, “Cousin of Emmett Till Denied the Purple Heart Medal Based on Race.” PR Newswire. November 7, 2023.