“I asked what color it was,and she said it was blue,” Jackson said.
Murphy,Jackson realized,was one of the about 200,000 African Americans who fought for the Union Army or the Navy in the Civil War. To chronicle their experiences,the African American Civil War Museum in Washington reopened in a new location Monday,in time for the 150th anniversary of the conflict.
Jackson,who is a member of the museum’s board of directors,joined D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray,Sen. Mary Landrieu,D-La.; Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.,D-Ill.; D.C. Councilman Marion Barry and museum director and former District councilman Frank Smith at the grand opening ceremony.
“This is a beautiful and fitting addition to the monuments of great glory in this city,” Landrieu said.
African Americans served in armed conflicts since the nation’s founding,though at times they faced strong white opposition. They fought for both sides during the Revolutionary War,but the 1792 Volunteer Militia Act banned African Americans from enlisting in the army and thereby officially excluded them from serving on land in the War of 1812.
To increase northern troop numbers during the Civil War,Congress passed the Militia Act of July 17,1862,allowing “persons of African descent” to join Union forces,despite some public and governmental resistance. The Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1,1863,authorized African Americans to participate in combat,under the direction of the Bureau of Colored Troops created later that year.
“The main thing I think I’ve learned from this association is,most likely,had the troops of color not been involved in the Civil War,we would have lost,” museum board member Jack H. Olender said.
The museum opened in 1999 around the corner from its current location,the annex of a historic public school,which the D.C. council gave to the museum in December 2009. The museum remained open in various locations while the building was renovated. Its text boards,interactive video screens and slavery artifacts now rest across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial,which lists the names of black Civil War soldiers.
The speakers praised the reopened museum for highlighting the active role black soldiers played in the war that resulted in the abolition of slavery.
“This marks the moment when God intervened in the affairs of the American people,” Jesse Jackson said. “When the Negro is allowed to fight for human rights,he changes the course of history.”
In addition to being theGlorious March to Liberty: Civil War to Civil Rights exhibit. Several participants in the 1961 integrated bus demonstration received awards at the event.
District resident Samantha Gordon,a potter,brought an out-of-town friend to explore the museum.
“I think without tours it’s going to be hard for a lot of people to read through everything,” Gordon,37,said. “I just read snippets as I went around.”
She said she liked the exhibit layout and felt the 4,000-square-foot museum was an appropriate size.
“A nice thing about smaller museums in general is the intimacy to it,” she said. “What you read here you’re more likely to keep than in the big museums.”
Howard Berry Price,a Vietnam War veteran from Martinsburg,W.Va.,and Civil War buff,said he has been following the museum’s progress since its inception. He is a descendent of an African American soldier who fought for the Union in Buford,S.C. His relative’s name is engraved in the memorial across the street from the museum.
Price,65,said he has been to several museums that neglect the experiences of black Union soldiers and was impressed with what he saw at the new African American Civil War Museum.
“I’m just concerned that the history be accurately portrayed,” he said.
It was this desire to share the often-overlooked African American perspective of the Civil War that motivated the museum’s creation,several speakers said.
“As long as the lion tells the story,he will always be king of the jungle,” Barry said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Koenig at [email protected] or 202-326-9867
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