Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Rally on the High Ground"--Repairing the African American Civil War Memorial

It has been many years since the sound of a gun was heard on U Street. The anomalous incident that occurred in late December luckily did not result in bodily harm. Unfortunately, the gunshots managed to damage one of the most important national landmarks—the Wall of Honor at the African-American Civil War Memorial, which remains the only memorial dedicated to honoring the 209, 145 men of the United States Colored Troops who bravely answered the call of their country during the Civil War. The community remains confident in the safety of their neighborhood, and is now turning its attention to the needs of the memorial. The museum is proud to announce the start of "Rally on the High Ground", a fundraising effort to help pay for the repairs. Aside from the damage caused to the names of Adolph Ebermayer and Henry Foster, there are other issues at the memorial that need repair. Among the items on the agenda are repair of damage done by skateboarders, installation of anti-skating devices, repairs and replacements of lighting, installation of graphics and flag poles, and renewal of landscaping surrounding the memorial.

To understand the importance of the memorial, you must first know the story of the men whose names are inscribed. The passing of the Militia Act of 1862 is one of the most overlooked moments in history. When compared to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments or the Civil Rights laws that were passed a century after the war’s end, the Militia Act could seem irrelevant. Its consequences, however, changed the course of American history by not only allowing but asking “men of African descent”—specifying one of the most oppressed and mistreated groups in our nation’s history—to join the military, to fight for their freedom, and to help reunite the war-torn country. African-Americans were dramatically overrepresented in the military, and played an incomparable and decisive role in the war. The passage of the Emancipation Proclamation six months after the Militia Act allowed even more men of African descent to bravely stand up and fight to defend a country that would continue to deny their rights for more than a century after the war’s end. 25 soldiers of African descent earned the Medal of Honor, and President Lincoln acknowledged their contributions as vital to the Union’s victory over the Confederacy.

The importance of Washington, D.C. in this story stems from more than just its status as the nation’s capital. U Street became a vibrant cultural center for the African American community in the century following the war. Dubbed “Black Broadway”, the area attracted some of the greatest minds of the time, including Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington. The neighborhood suffered immensely in 1968 with the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which simply added to already roiling racial tensions, and the violent riots which followed.

With the efforts of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, a statue entitled The Spirit of Freedom, surrounded by the Wall of Honor that displays plaques with the 209, 145 names of the United States Colored Troops, was installed at U Street. The placement of the memorial in the long-time center of African-American culture reminded everyone of the community’s past glory and the heritage of its residents, helping to revitalize the area. The memorial honors those who answered their country’s cry for help. It honors those who not only fought for their own freedom, but for the reunion, peace and prosperity of a country that had denied them their basic human rights. It honors the families and descendants of these soldiers and sailors who are here only because of the brave sacrifices of these men. It honors those who continued to fight for equality, marching for Civil Rights much like their ancestors marched across battlefields. But most importantly, it honors America, and the men that allowed it to become the country it is today.
The importance of this memorial cannot be overstated. These men remained unnamed and unrecognized for far too long, and their bravery deserves a memorial that accurately honors the devotion they showed to their country. Please join the "Rally on the High Ground" and answer this call for help, just as these men did a century ago. Any contribution you can make to help restore the memorial to its intended state will be acknowledged and greatly appreciated.

Persons interested in making a tax deductible donation to "Rally on the High Ground" may do so by making checks payable to the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation (please include memorial repairs in memo section) and address them to

African American Civil War Museum
1925 Vermont Ave NW,
Washington, D.C., 20001 

or they may donate online by going to www.afroamcivilwar.org.