Juneteenth the victory of black courage and patriotism

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Juneteenth is properly seen as the victory celebration for the 209,145 African Descent soldiers who kept the United States one nation and indirectly liberated Mexico from foreign domination.

According to the U.S. Army Center for Military History, 16,000 troops from the 25th Corps arrived in Texas in May 1864 just one month after being the first troops to enter Petersburg and Richmond after their abandonment by Confederate forces.

They joined regiments from Corps d’Afrique, which had been organized in the Mississippi Valley, which had first entered Texas in 1864.  Almost a fourth of the African-American troops in the Army at that time were massed in Texas when it became the last state of the Confederacy to surrender on June 19, 1865.

If this sounds different from the narrative you’ve heard, underscore heard.  A new approach to American history uses the written and official documentation created by African-Americans to scientifically describe their central role in the transformation of the Western Hemisphere.  It also takes into account that Mexico’s civil war from 1857-59 and the subsequent occupation by England, Spain and. particularly France, were significant factors influencing the war between the states in the United States.

This approach also takes note of the extraordinary organization and communication system which Africans developed over two centuries which became visible in 1863 with the organization of the Union (Loyal) League.  Within one year after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the League had 4,700 chapters and 700,000 members, 20 percent of all blacks in the country.

That organization allowed the rapid integration of soldiers and civilian workers into the Union war effort, the critical tipping point which decided the war in favor of maintaining the United States as a nation.

Just as Crispus Attucks led the Boston Massacre’s martyrdom in 1770 and Haitian troops saved the Revolution at Savannah and Yorktown, this effort is a foundation of modern America, appreciated by a great majority of whites at the time through the passage in 30 states of the 13th Amendment and subsequently, through new black voters, of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

The military success should not be seen as an anomaly.  John Calhoun blocked blacks from serving in the U.S. Army in 1828 at the same time that invaders were spreading into Seminole territories of the Deep South to plant cotton.  Yet, as allies of indigenous, British and Spanish forces, the Seminole Wars were the longest engagement ever faced by the U.S. Army over 30 years, decided with the truce Jesup’s Proclamation, which resulted in the first Emancipation Proclamation, the model for Lincoln’s order in 1863.

“The colored population is the great available . . . force for restoring the Union,” President Lincoln told Andrew Johnson in March 1863. “The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers upon the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once. And who doubts that we can present that sight if we but take hold in earnest?”

John Horse, the leader of the Seminole forces who moved first to Oklahoma, then Texas and Mexico, would become a leader of the unexpected success of Mexican forces against the French, celebrated at Puebla on May 5, 1862 as Cinco de Mayo.

Because the French had to focus on Mexico, the potential alliance with the Confederacy through Texas did not occur.  A few months later, President Abraham Lincoln would recognize the migration of freed Africans to Union lines in Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana and issue the Emancipation Proclamation as the necessary step to deny the South its labor force and cut off its economic lifetime to Europe.

In Road to Ratification: How 27 States Faced the Most Challenging Issue in American History, I began by finding the ratification instruments for each state.  I first became aware in 2007 when the Historic State Capitol Museum in Sacramento asked me to interpret the California adoption of the 13th Amendment.   Then, we weaved the story from that instrument back to the first African known to enter that state.

Citizenship for All: the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment, similarly describes how Africans turned themselves into American citizens in just five short years by taking advantage of the split between the North and South over control of the cotton trade to win their freedom on the battlefield.

By June 1865, the list of military accomplishments was impressive, many reported by Thomas M. Chester of the Philadelphia Press and by the Christian Recorder of the A.M.E. Church:

  • The First Kansas Colored victory at Honey Springs, Indian Territory in July 1863
  • On Feb. 18, 1864, the 21st U.S. Colored Infantry entered Charleston after its evacuation by Confederates
  • Construction and guarding of the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad by the 12th and 13th U.S. Colored Infantries in Tennessee
  • The First and Second Native Guards who entered Union service in 1863 rebuilt the railroad from Opelousas to New Orleans, including repair of a bridge in 1863, and participated in the capture of Port Hudson, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River
  • The Corps d’Afrique 1st Engineer and 16th Infantry helped occupy Brownsville and Corpus Cristi, Texas in November 1863
  • The 3rd and 5th Corps d’Afrique Engineers build a system of dams on the Red River in May 1864, part of 19 regiments of U.S. Colored Troops in Louisiana
  • Garrisoning Key West by the 2d U.S. Colored Infantry and Pensacola with the 25th, 82d and 86th U.S. Colored Infantries
  • The attack of the Colored Troops Division on April  9, 1865 to force the surrender of Mobile
  • The capture of Little Rock, AR on Jan. 24, 1865
  • Organization of 11 U.S. Colored regiments from Camp William Penn in Philadelpha
  • Garrisoning Hampton Roads by the end of 1863 with the 1st, 5th, 10th, 35th, 36th and 37th U.S. Colored Infantries in Yorktown, Portsmouth and Norfolk as the African Brigade under Brig. Gen. Edward Wild
  • Organization of the 4th Division of IX Corps in April 1864 by the 19th, 23d, 27th, 30th and 39th U.S. Colored Infantries
  • The siege of Petersburg which cut off the lines of supply to the Army of Northern Virginia
  • Earning 12 Medals of Honor on Sept. 29, 1864 in the attack on Ft. Gilmer on the outskirts of Richmond
  • Excavation of the Dutch Gap Canal by seven black regiments in 1864
  • Formation of the all-black 25th Corps in December 1864
  • Occupation of Wilmington, N.C. on Feb. 21, 1865
  • Entering evacuated Richmond by the 7th and 8th U.S. Colored Infantry on April 3, 1865 with surrender negotiated by the commander of the 25th Corps. Gen. Weitzel
  • Arrival at Appomattox Court House on April 8
  • Garrisoning of Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the Rio Grande by 1864 by the and 62d, 87th and 95th U.S. Colored Infantries
  • Construction of a rail line from Brazos Santiago to White’’s Ranch, TX

The lonely outpost by black soldiers at the mouth of the Rio Grande kept France and occupied Mexico out of the war while Union generals prioritized maintaining the navigation of the Mississippi in 1863 to 1865. Most of the Union outposts along the Mississippi during 1864 were maintained by U.S. Colored Troops because white soldiers enlisted for three year terms in 1861 and 1862 were leaving service. After the surrender, the 25th Corps would serve as the first border patrol along the Rio Grande.

With 45,000 U.S. troops in Texas, the abortive “empire” of Maxmilian in Mexico collapsed in January 1866 when Napoleon III withdrew his 30,000 French troops.

Within two years, the U.S. Army, under Congressional Reconstruction. held a vote for a constitutional convention in Texas.   Of the 44,689 votes in favor, 36,932 were cast by African-Americans, a direct effect of the service of their fellow citizens in arms, electing ten of the 90 delegates.

As U.S. Colored Troops were mustered out, John Horse would return from Mexico to form the Seminole-Indian Scout Detachment, which for the next 44 years would protect the U.S. border until 1914 between Forts Scott and Ringgold.  A cemetery in Brackettsville is the site of an annual ceremony for the descendants, including four recipients of the Medal of Honor.

As the 400th anniversary of the 1619 arrival of an English slave ship to Jamestown approaches this summer, African-American families must seize control of the narrative to point out that the area is also the site of the Haitian forces who helped decide the American Revolution and the first contrabands who left the Confederacy for Union forces.  The journey from Jamestown must focus on the enormity of the triumph over slavery.

The best vehicle for establishing the belonging of Africans in America is the connection of today’s 7.8 million African-American students with their ancestors who fought in the Civil War.  That service is richly documented through the National Park Service and National Archives.

Dr. Frank Smith, founder of the African-American Civil War Museum and Monument at 10th and U Streets in Washington, honored me with an invitation to participate in the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birthday to discuss the findings of Road to Ratification: How 27 States Faced the Most Challenging Issue in American History. While talking, he acknowledged that only 3,000 current Americans have identified their ancestors on the 209,145 names on the memorial.  As many as half of those students have relatives whose courage is part of the preceding story.

Knowledge of their lives is an imperative that all parents should insist on during the 2019-20 school year.  As I noted in a paper for the American Educational Research Association, simply advising students that they are the descendants of people who overcame slavery instead of people who were enslaved changes their current valuation of their own worth. I’ve worked with Regina Mason on the movie Gina’s Journey, where she spent 40 years researching an ancestor, William Grimes, who wrote a narrative of his triumph over captivity.

Every African-American has superheros in their legacy, who not only preserved the honor of the African mother land but made the United States and Mexico of today possible.  That is a story we tell during the next school year in six hours daily of instructional television based on rich documentation from our national parks and other primary sources.

Black parents can’t count on schools to tell the journey from Jamestown to Juneteenth.  Study these books over the summer and insist on having the life of blacks in America seen through the authentic accounts of those who lived them.


By John William Templeton |Special to the Sacramento Observer

John William Templeton is creator of the California African-American Freedom Trail and author of Road to Ratification: How 27 States Faced the Most Challenging Issue in American History; Citizenship for All: the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment and Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols.1-4, all available at queencalafiamovie.com

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