WWI service of Storer College students: Overlooked no more
By Christine Snyder
via the Spirit of Jefferson and Farmers Advocate newspaper web site
HARPERS FERRY – When Algernon Ward began as a historical re-enactor in 1999, he portrayed a Civil War soldier who fought to preserve the United States. Living in his hometown of Trenton, N.J., where Gen. George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River to lead the surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries stationed there on Christmas Day 1776, he and his colleagues expanded their work to include African-American soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War – the First Rhode Island Regimen.
“Over time, we found that one could not confine the 300-year span of African-American military history to any particular period,” the 64-year-old retired research scientist with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services in Trenton explained in an interview. Ward and others soon founded additional re-enacting units to bring to light African-Americans’ contributions in the major conflicts of the 20th century.
On Sunday, February 11, Ward delivered a lecture on the World War I service of students at Storer College, the famed Harpers Ferry school for the formerly enslaved that operated from 1867 through 1955. The African-Americans who fought for the United States in the Great War in 1917 and 1918 are nicknamed the “Ebony Doughboys.”
Ward’s talk, free and open to the public, happened at Mather Training Center at 51 Mather Place on the former Storer campus, now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. It was originally scheduled for Feb. 4, but postponed until this weekend because of icy weather.
His 2 p.m. presentation kicked off the Black History Month celebration jointly put on by the park and the Jefferson County branch of the NAACP.
With this November marking a century since World War I’s end – and with white supremacy movements rallying in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere, Ward said it’s an important time for all Americans – black and white alike – to finally get an accurate picture of the ways African-Americans have been part of the U.S. military since Colonial days.
Ward said that after the summer’s deadly violence in Charlottesville over elected leaders’ plans to take down statues of Confederates Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Ward and other Ebony Doughboys along with several local military historians were invited to take part in a day-long Veterans Day program at a museum in Charlottesville.
“I was heartened to observe how the hundreds of black and white students who attended were fascinated by the exhibits and information we shared,” Ward said. “My impression was that this was indeed the way forward – educate the next generation to the whole breath of the American story, being sure to include the previously overlooked contributions of African-Americans to that history, and everyone will gain deeper appreciation for what it has taken to make and preserve this country. The idea that we all have a shared destiny will be embedded in their DNA.”
Besides Ward’s work with the Ebony Doughboys, he also continues to volunteer as a re-enactor with the U.S. Colored Troops from the Civil War, the First Rhode Island Regiment from the Revolutionary War and the Fifth Platoon from World War II.
For the last six years, the groups have collaborated during Black History Month to host an event, “Three Centuries of African-American Soldiers” at The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton. The event also showcases history exhibits, authors, World War II veterans and others, he said. Ward said that in recent years he’s seeing growing interest in American involvement in The Great War. Last year marked the centennial of the start of U.S. involvement in the war, which had begun in 1914.
Read the entire article on the Spirit of Jefferson and Farmers Advocate newspaper web site.
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