Long-ignored black civil war soldiers honored with parade
September 9, 1996
From Correspondent Louise Schiavone
WASHINGTON (CNN)--When the Civil War ended in 1865 and the victorious Northern troops marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Union's 178,000 African-American soldiers, who fought to help keep the country united and destroy slavery, were not allowed to march.
In that period after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Gen. William T. Sherman, who was in charge of the two-day parade, specifically ordered exclusion of the black troops.
Sunday, more than 100 years after the Civil War, the "U.S. colored troops" were represented by black Civil War reenactors who righted a historical wrong by marching in the original parade route.
The parade was organized by Frank Smith, city councilman and Civil War project chairman. It is the beginning of a five-day celebration to honor the African-American soldiers. Later this week in Washington, an African-American Civil War monument will be dedicated to the black troops.
"We have got almost 7 million descendants of these soldiers living today," Smith said. "And they have never really believed that American fully appreciated the sacrifices that those families made to make this country great."
It is estimated 19,000 black sailors also defended Old Glory.Historians say "Glory," a 1989 movie about the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment, a black Civil War unit commanded by white officers, captured most of the indignities suffered by the African-American troops, such as lower pay.
"The matter of discriminatory pay (and) abusive treatment, also gave vivid expression to the internal struggles that African-American soldiers were experiencing during the Civil War," said Joseph Reidy, professor of history at Howard University. "Could they be brave enough? Endure discriminatory pay?"
About 37,000 African-American troops died in battle, but the country they came back to remained steeped in segregation. Shirley Foley Jr.'s great-grandfather knew first-hand of the segregation.
"He chose to join because he wanted his freedom and he loved this country," said Foley. "He was very discouraged when he applied for his pension, and the examiner spoke of his witnesses as 'those ignorant Negroes'. He didn't like that at all."
That government examiner approved the veteran's pension, but the memory of his insult lives on in the Foley family and many like it.
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