Don’t let black history fade for the next generation

Don’t let black history fade for the next generation
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With all the many forces pulling Americans apart, it is important to remember the strokes of fate that have kept this global amalgam together. 

The 209,145 names adorning the African-American Civil War Memorial National Monument in the nation's capital do not get enough credit for giving their lives and courage for a country that did not yet recognize their humanity.

With the national theme of African-Americans in Times of War for the 2018 Black History Month, their example represents the values that can draw all Americans together.


They've done it before. 


President Abraham Lincoln's decision to issue the final Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, was incredibly unpopular, followed just months later by massive civil disobedience with the anti-draft riots in New York City. But the most practical effect of the Proclamation was to allow Frederick Douglass, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet and other leaders to encourage 10 percent of all the black men in the country, whether in slavery or not, to volunteer to fight for the Union Army.    

Their service swung white public opinion in the Northern states such that the U.S. Senate would approve the 13th Amendment by April 1864, Lincoln would be re-elected, the House of Representatives would join the Senate on Jan. 31, 1865, and most tellingly, 33 state legislatures would ratify the first Constitutional amendment in 60 years. 

It’s hardly an isolated phenomenon. The role of 5,000 black Revolutionary soldiers following a similar shift by Gen. George Washington helped fuel a number of Northern states to end slavery soon after the adoption of the Constitution. It would be the St. Domingo Legion from Haiti that played a decisive role in the defeat of the British at Yorktown, Va. The Haitian Revolution would lead to the Louisiana Purchase and independence movements across Latin America. Similarly, heroism in World War II would lead to President Truman's decision to end segregation in the military and add momentum to Thurgood Marshall's legal crusade.  

As educators and communities consider how to commemorate a particularly significant Black History Month in 2018, given the 50th anniversary after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the recent 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment, tracking those individual legacies is a very effective way to face the division of today. 

For today's young people, these stories are significant. The dignity of these heroes survives in the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities, some of which, like Howard University and Lincoln University, were directly founded by veterans of the Civil War. In fact, nine date their founding to 1867, as the Congressional Black Caucus recently pointed out.  

But unless today's students of all races learn the people who had the most at stake in the Civil War played a critical role in the ultimate result, which benefits all Americans, we will continue to belabor the evil which they vanquished. 
In addition to the African-American Civil War Memorial, the Gullah-Geechee National Cultural Heritage Corridor and 900 freedmen's encampments chronicled by the National Park Service are rich resources for student assignments. Leaving out this compelling history leads to intolerance, as Dr. King described in his Other America speech at Stanford University in 1967.

The omission of the role of America's black war heroes leaves a hole for today's students that should not exist. Every classroom in the country should have a laser focus on that National Monument as we prepare for Black History Month. All ideologies and all races can find common ground in the distinguished record of African-Americans in Times of War.

Today's Civil War is for our youth. We must lift the stories of the departed to raise the futures of today's young warriors against injustice.

Historian John William Templeton is co-founder of National Black Business Month and author of “Road to Ratification: How 27 States Faced the Most Challenging Issue in American History,” as well as producer of the companion 31-episode instructional series. He moderates MLK+50 at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park on Jan. 15.