Re-en­ac­tors share stories of black men who served

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CERONE WHITE cwhite@somd­news.com

This year marks the 156th an­niver­sary of the start of the Civil War, and com­mem­o­rat­ing this event in Amer­i­can his­tory lends spe­cial res­o­nance to the many African-Amer­i­can men and women who joined the war ef­fort in help­ing se­cure Amer­ica’s free­dom, both dur­ing the Civil War and other wars in fol­low­ing years.

The Sable Sol­diers are a New Eng­land-based group of re-en­ac­tors trav­el­ing the coun­try to tell the story of African men and women who, de­spite harsh dis­crim­i­na­tion dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, de­cided to serve their coun­try dur­ing wars that helped form mod­ern Amer­ica. Th­ese men and women would uti­lize the threat to coun­try and home to seize the op­por­tu­nity to gain re­spect and equal­ity that would later shape the civil and equal rights move­ment of the 20th cen­tury.

On Tues­day, a group of peo­ple sat in build­ing A on the Charles County Fair­grounds in La Plata to learn more about the

lesser known his­tor­i­cal facts in the war for in­de­pen­dence and the Sable Sol­diers’ mis­sion.

“It was an honor for us to come out to­day and share this in­for­ma­tion with peo­ple about the Sable Sol­diers,” said Lu­jean Balen of the Sable Sol­diers of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. “A lot of peo­ple didn’t know about this so it was great to be here to ed­u­cate the young and old.”

July 4 is a day of cel­e­brat­ing and com­mem­o­rat­ing the adop­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. On July 4, 1776, the Con­ti­nen­tal Congress de­clared that the 13 Amer­i­can colonies re­garded them­selves as a new na­tion, and the United Sates of Amer­ica was no longer part of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Ar­chives, Congress for­mally adopted the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence on July 4, 1776, but it made the for­mal call for free­dom on July 2. The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence be­came of­fi­cial on Aug. 2, 1776, af­ter mem­bers of Congress signed the doc­u­ment.

How­ever, the cel­e­bra­tion of the na­tion’s in­de­pen­dence would not be com­plete if it were not for the hard work and sacri­fice of the Sable Sol­diers.

“There were other peo­ple that con­trib­uted to Amer­ica be­com­ing what it is to­day. What Amer­ica is to­day is not only through the ef­forts of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton,” Balen said. “Our role is to de­fine the roles that oth­ers play, specif­i­cally African-Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Balen be­gan to ask those in at­ten­dance how their an­ces­tors ar­rived in the United States. Not many peo­ple were able to give an an­swer, and those who were able to re­spond could only give a par­tial an­swer while some gave time and year.

“Know­ing your his­tory is im­por­tant,” Balen said. “We have to go to the past to see where we are to­day in the present.”

One key el­e­ment which was high­lighted was that the gen­eral as­sem­blies voted that ev­ery able-bod­ied “Ne­gro, Mu­latto, and In­dian slave” could en­list and then get land and be free. The price for an African-Amer­i­can slave was far more ex­pen­sive than that of an Ir­ish slave. It cost 50 pence for an African-Amer­i­can slave and 5 pence for an Ir­ish slave.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search, the Rhode Is­land First Reg­i­ment in 1778 be­came the first or­ga­nized reg­i­ment largely com­prised of en­slaved and free African sol­diers.

Later, African-Amer­i­can men would par­tic­i­pate in the War of 1812, Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War, Civil War and Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. By the time of WWI, more than 350,000 African-Amer­i­can men would even­tu­ally serve in mil­i­tary ser­vice.

“We can’t change the past,” said Leon Vaughan, mem­ber of the Sable Sol­diers of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. “We just have to bring it out.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY CERONE WHITE

Sable Sol­diers re-en­act­ing and sport­ing uni­form worn by sol­diers in the 19th Cen­tury. From left, An­thony Chase, Leon Vaughan, Lu­jean Balen, and Maxwell Gaynor.

Mem­bers of the Sable Sol­diers re-en­act­ment group along with fa­cil­i­ta­tor of His­toric McConchie School and Farm Mu­seum. From left, Maxwell Gaynor, Char­lotte Weirich and Leon Vaughan

Lu­jean Balen of the Sable Sol­diers of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, rep­re­sent­ing the Rhode Is­land First Reg­i­ment, demon­strat­ing how to use a ri­fle.

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