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(Excerpt from speech delivered at the "United States Colored Troops Victory Reception" at the National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg, PA November 13, 2015)
In the complexity of our national history, there were no losers in our Civil War, only causalities and victors, for the victory won left us truer to our creed and brought us toward a more perfect union. The paradigm of complexity rejects reduction, disjunction and Aristotle’s either/or dualism. The discipline of this paradigm accounts for diversity and unity, connection and contextualization, and the existence of evil and good in a single entity. Robert E. Lee can be described simultaneously as a villain of secession and a hero reconciliation.
The complexity of our national history, and for that matter reality, confounds traditional social science leading many of our relied on historians and celebrated Civil War experts to what Edgar Morin calls “a paradigm of simplification” in which they are required to choose exclusion and simplicity over inclusion and complexity. This practice of exclusion is especially problematic as it pertains to the historical contributions of American patriots of African descent. The history of such patriots clouded by complexity and shrouded in secrecy is an African American mystery in American history. Indeed, a secret organization comprised of Americans of African descent during the first century of our nation’s history was called African American Mysteries Order of Oppressed Men. The activities of these American history makers cannot be excluded from our historical inquires if we seek to decipher the mystery and account for the complexity of our national history, for the efforts of these Americans were noteworthy. Indeed their efforts were successful in the struggle to end the tyranny of slavery and to gain their rights as citizens in league with the Constitution as evidenced by the ratifications of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to our Constitution.
In the pages of the North Star in December 1848, Dr. Martin R. Delany the former editor of the Mystery out of Pittsburgh (1843 to 1847) and the co-founder and co-editor of the North Star wrote, “But the time shall yet come, when the name of the despised, neglected American patriot, in spite of American prejudice, shall rise superior to the spirit that would degrade him, and find his place on the records of merit and fame.” Dr. Delany, who was commissioned a major of infantry in the federal army during the Civil War, defined “true patriotism” as being true to the creed of our nation as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and being willing to sacrifice, even one’s life, to achieve the goals of our nation as articulated in the Preamble of the U. S. Constitution. And Major Delany by this definition was a true American patriot. In America’s African descent communities from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, there is a general appreciation for the fact that color prejudice and racism have degraded and neglected, derided and forgotten, the historical contributions of American patriots of African descent like Major Delany who has been transformed by traditional historians into a black nationalist.
The spirit of racism by degrading and neglecting the history of American patriots of African descent has ensured the exclusion of essential historical facts from the academy sanctioned history from which curriculum and lesson plans are developed. This is the reason why Dr. Carter G. Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. This is the reason why Negro History Week sandwiched between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln was established by Dr. Woodson in February1926. Color prejudice and the spirit of racism have deprived American scholars of a holistic appreciation of our national history, keeping essential stories that can help us gain us a greater understanding of our national identity mysteries. Fortunately for the students and researchers of the future, the paradigm of complexity provides us with tools to account for the complexities of our history, tools needed to decipher the mysteries.
But in order to decipher what we shall refer to as the African American Mystery in American history, we must exorcize the spirit of racism from our scholarship. To perform this exorcism, we must identify [distinguish]* without prejudice the scholarship possessed by such a spirit. And once identified [distinguished] we must perform the exorcism regardless of the color of the scholar advancing the possessed scholarship.*Within the context of the paradigm of complexity, distinguish is more appropriate than identify.
In the physical realm where we are educated and educate, scholars with the intent to embrace color prejudice and racism are not responsible for the continued suppression of prideful and inspiring stories of American patriots such as the United States Colored Troops, war heroes who were honored here in Harrisburg on November 14, 1865 in what was recorded by the event organizers, the Garnet League, as a “Reception of Our Colored Heroes – A Grand Demonstration". These American heroes were victors not victims, and their stories are inspiring patriotic stories. With the increased availability of primary sources, these stories are easily discovered. Yet, operating within the paradigm of simplification, traditional historians are comfortable with the context of justification not the context of discovery, and in the tradition of their discipline, their scholarship is easily possessed by the spirit of racism and such stories are thus suppressed.
Possessed by such a spirit, their scholarship cannot help but suppress stories of pride while featuring stories that elicit pity, guilt and derision. When sympathetic, this possessed scholarship tends to be complaint based. This complaint based scholarship leads to the exclusion of certain relevant facts making it impossible to account for the complexity of our history and thus decipher the mystery. To decipher the mystery, we must reject this complaint based scholarship. But this is made difficult by the fact that scholars engaged in this form of scholarship are often of the historical group victimized by racism. Indeed, many of those who suppress the recorded purpose of the Harrisburg “Reception of Our Colored Heroes – A Grand Demonstration” are of that color which has been the object of race prejudice.
Suppression while appearing to report is sometimes characterized by the renaming of historical events thus enabling the fabrication of causes and outcomes. In the case of the Harrisburg reception, we witness the renaming of the event as “the United States Colored Troops Grand Review” instead of reporting it as it was recorded in primary sources, which was as a “Reception of our Colored Heroes – A Grand Demonstration”. Again the renaming of the historical event allows for the fabrication of the cause of the event. The renaming also directs inquisitive researchers to dead end secondary sources that support the fabricated cause. In this case, the fabricated cause is the race probation of participation in the Washington Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865. This fabricated cause is justified by the spirit of racism and has the effect of eliciting pity, guilt and anger.
The compliant is simple and has the logical appearance of eloquence within the paradigm of the scholars who fabricated it. The complaint is that United States Colored Troops were prohibited because of their race from marching in the Washington Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865. This complaint possessed by the spirit of racism degrades and neglects, derides and forgets, the participation of the African descent soldiers who marched proudly in the Washington Grand Review of the Armies. The scholars who fabricated this complaint must fail to report on, and they must refuse to honor, the soldiers of the 135th regiment of United States Colored Troops who marched in the Washington Grand Review of the Armies on May 24, 1865. They marched as a part of the 17th Corps of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army of Georgia. These colored troops marched proudly along Pennsylvania Avenue pass the presidential reviewing stand where colored troops were also conspicuously posted during the Grand Review of the Armies. But in the teachings of the possessed scholarship, the story of these African descent participants in the Grand Review must be degraded and neglected, derided and forgotten, in order to give merit to the fabricated complaint.
In the fabrication of race based complaints, complaints that seem logical in the spirit that degrades and neglects the contributions of American patriots of African descent, facts are not valued unless those facts can be used to support the story of race oppression. Within American academic circles influenced by Marxist scholars, which has been dominant within the top social science departments at Historically Black Colleges, the scholarship graded as the best ultimately seeks to replace stories of pride with stories of pity and brutality in order to make white people feel guilty and black people feel angry. Advanced is a suppressive victim’s narrative where truth gives way to legend and the spirit of racism is given the narrator’s authority.
Possessed and directed by the spirit of racism, such liberal and progressive scholarship fabricates and perpetuates race narratives that require the exclusion of germane facts, facts that provide evidence of the merit and fame of African descent recruiters, commissioned officers, soldiers, sailors, marines, guides, scouts, saboteurs, spies, spymasters, nurses, teamsters and other contract laborers, all of whom were in fact American patriots during that defining epoch in American history called the War of the Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the War to Preserve the Union, the War Between the States, the War to End the Tyranny of Slavery, our Civil War, where we as a nation experienced a new birth of freedom.
In the spirit of racism, the following race based myths and opinions have been reported as facts by relied on historians and celebrated Civil War experts. As a group, such scholars are certainly not white racists or white supremacists. They are Americans of various hues typically intent on righting great wrongs that exist predominantly in their poor and possessed scholarship. The perpetuation of these race based myths are responsible for keeping the recorded history of American patriots of African descent during our Civil War off the records of merit and fame that get reported in our schools and media. The following are myths and opinions reported as facts that keep our history a mystery:
- Christianity was given to the enslaved to keep them content with being held as slaves. [The truth is revealed in the reporting of African descent voices active in the abolitionist movement.]
- The Constitution was a proslavery document. [The truth is revealed in the reporting of African descent voices active in the abolitionist movement.]
- There were no African American commissioned officers or field grade officers during the Civil War. [The truth is revealed in the official military records, the writings of the African American commissioned officers and the accounts of their contemporaries.]
- The movie Glory is “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence”. [The truth is reveals in the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, in the letters and books written by the officers and soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts and in the official military records.]
- United States Colored Troops (USCT) were assigned to garrison duty because there was no intent by military authorities to send African American soldiers into combat. [The truth is revealed in the letters and orders written by government officials, the official military records and the official histories of the regiments.]
- United States Colored Troops were issued inferior equipment because no one expected them to be sent into battle. [The truth is revealed in the personal accounts of the soldiers and in the quartermaster department records.]
- United States Colored Troops did not receive equal pay during the Civil War. [The truth is revealed in the letters and articles written by colored troops, letters and books written by army officers and in the Congressional record.]
- United States Colored Troops were trained differently from other soldiers. [The truth is revealed in letters, articles and books written by colored troops as well as the actual training reports.]
- United States Colored Troops died of disease at a higher rate than other classes of soldiers because they were given inferior medical care. [The truth is revealed by the comparison of deaths by disease of regiments with similar lengths of service.]
- United States Colored Troops were used to perform menial tasks. [The truth is revealed by an understanding of the “military” importance of the tasks performed.]
- General W. T. Sherman was such a racist that he did not enlist or employ African descent soldiers in his army. [The truth is revealed in the writings of Sherman, in the histories of USCT regiments operating and conducting combats operations under Sherman’s command and the official military records.]
- There were no integrated regiments during the Civil War other than the presence of white officers in the United States Colored Troops. [The truth is revealed in the military records of African descent soldiers who fought in other than USCT regiments.]
- United States Colored Troops were put on the front line to get killed because of racism and the lack of concern for their welfare. [The truth is revealed with an understanding of American military doctrine, the letters of African descent soldiers, the articles of reporters and the writings of general officers.]
- Fort Wagner, Charleston, Petersburg and Richmond were not captured by United States Colored Troops. [The truth is revealed in the writings of soldiers, the articles of reporters as well as the orders, observations and reports of Union and Confederate officers.]
- The first African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor was William Carney of the 54th Massachusetts. [The truth is revealed in the official military records and the personal accounts of soldiers and sailors.]
- The slaves in Texas did not know about the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865. [The truth is revealed in the official military records, the personal accounts of enslaved Texans and in newspaper accounts.]
- United States Colored Troops were prohibited from participating in the Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865; therefore, there was a United States Colored Troops Grand Review in Harrisburg in November 1865. [The truth is revealed in the official military records and reports from eyewitnesses.]
The survival of these myths and opinions in this age of easy access primary resources is a result of the apparently successful struggle of leading American historians to justify the false reports and opinions that have become a part of their canon as opposed to discovering the truth. There is a need for a paradigm shift if we seek to decipher the mystery. And the paradigm of complexity offers us tools in Deciphering the African American Mystery in American History. Unfortunately, among the most formidable foes to making that shift are the sons and daughters of the despised and neglected American patriot of African descent in higher education. Over the past four years [during the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War], they have represented the greatest opposition to accurate reporting.
To them the following poem is dedicated.
1865: A Message to the Son of a Despised and Neglected Patriot
Emasculated in the testimony of my own sonWho does not claim the honors that Mi won
My freedom came from the barrel of a gun
Though claimed as property in 1861
Mi was not a slave in slavery
Mi was a captive in captivity
No man in truth could own me
While in captivity Mi was free
To believe in the One God of my fathers
To embrace the faith of my mothers
To kneel in prayer with my sisters
To stand in battle with my brothers
At Island Mound we let Lincoln know
At Port Hudson we watched martyrs’ blood flow
At Milliken’s Bend we struck a blow
At Fort Wagner we let the nation know
That we were men ready and willing to fight
We brought hope to darkest night
We held Old Glory high in the morning light
We provided the fuel to make Liberty’s torch bright
Yet, claming that my manhood suffered to compromise
My son begs the sons of Europe to apologize
For taking my manhood, which he chooses to eulogize
It is the ignorance of my own son that Mi despise
For telling lies on me while asking for reparations in my name
Mi did not fight for glory, fortune or fame
To the achievements of others, Mi do not lay claim
But the Union victory in the War of the Rebellion came
When our fight for light and liberty was no longer discreet
When we marched victoriously down Charleston’s Meeting Street
When we marched victoriously down Richmond’s Main Street
When we watched General Lee’s army march away in defeat
Son, sing the songs we wrote by our deeds in 1865
Sing about how we did more than just survive
When Liberty was on her deathbed, we kept her alive
Sing proudly of our victory for light and liberty in 1865