54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment re-enactors
pose at a Civil War event I attended not long ago. The real
unit suffered heavy casualties in the war under the leadership
of Col. Robert Gould Shaw of Boston. The 54th was
featured in the 1989 movie, "Glory." For more
information, go to PHOTOS page.
Columbus subjugated the natives; some natives joined whites — and some blacks — in slave ownership. The earliest settlers and the nation's forefathers ensured that slavery survived, ignoring the irony that men who fought for their own freedom from England might own, buy and sell slaves.
Thomas Jefferson, despite his eloquent defense of liberty and equality, possessed, exploited and allowed his slaves to face harsh punishments to ensure his elite, planter lifestyle. He didn’t free them when he died, as did George Washington.
|"The Spirit of Freedom"memorial in Washington, D.C.,|
honors African Americans who fought for the
Union during the Civil War. The memorial stands
near the African American Civil War Museum.
The chart below chronicles the growth of African-American numbers in the U.S. military, beginning with the Revolutionary War. The percentage has
Through the centuries, the battlefield — whether land, sea or air — has provided African Americans a proving ground for manhood. The rigors of war offered a time and place to exhibit the personal traits of courage, competence and cleverness that Americans traditionally honor as measures of worth. Yet, even when great character was proven, the American ideal of equality often succumbed to the reality of seeing some people as less worthy. The mist of short-term memory and lack of historical literacy can obscure African Americans battlefield triumphs today.
Early in 1865, toward the end of the Civil War, the Confederate Congress approved a bill allowing slaves to become legitimate soldiers. Until then, African Americans had been hired out by their masters to fight or were impressed to work in support services for the rebel cause. That spring, the Confederacy moved to train and arm African American troops, but less than 50 men actually were recruited. *
| Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment, U.S.|
Army, 1890. Photo, courtesy Wikipedia.
“I’ve been able to dispel some myths,” he said.
I collected autographs of surviving
Tuskegee Airmen, who were honored
at an air show in Camden, S.C. Find more
about the WWII aces on PHOTOS page.
The U.S. Army units assigned to round up American Indians on the western frontier and move them to reservations included the all-black "Buffalo Soldiers." These troops were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment, formed in 1866 in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The units' nickname possibly originated with American Indians, who likened the soldiers' hair to that of the buffalo. Other theories say black troops earned the moniker because they fought as ferociously as cornered bison.
The nickname stuck to all four regiments of the "Negro Cavalry." Eighteen Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The units remained active until 1951, participating in six more wars, including World War II.
It's worth noting here that American Indian tribes often subjugated prisoners of war into slavery. When the Civil War erupted, up to 7 percent of the Cherokee of North Carolina owned African-American slaves. Many Cherokees fought for the Confederacy. About 5 percent of Southern whites owned slaves at the time.
In 1941, the airmen began training in hand-me-down airplanes at a remote airfield near the Tuskegee Institute, founded by famous Afrian-American educator Booker T. Washington. (More about my visit to Tuskegee on the PHOTOS page.)
|A group of Tuskegee Airmen, 1943,|
at their training field in Tuskegee,
Ala. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Despite profound progress in race relations in the United States,
change in persistent perceptions remain, caught in the echo chambers of history. Read more in my next blog.
COMING SOON: Part 2 of "Misty Battlefields, Myths Of Lesser People, And My Rosetta."
Join me in exploring the historical disconnect of our American ideal of equality from our intractable myths of lesser people. I'll introduce you to Rosetta, one of many African-American "maids" who worked from early morning to late evening in my childhood home in North Carolina.
From my book-in-progress, Dear Father I Am Sorry To Tell You, about the Civil War and its legacy:
For more, go to PREVIEWS page.
** U.S. Department of Defense, November 2012