Black lives should be honored – not just tolerated

Congress approves DC statue of Frederick Douglass in Capitol complexIt’s high time that we had a statue placed on the Loudoun County Court house lawn honoring abolitionist Frederick Douglas and the black Union troops from Loudoun County that fought for the union and for their freedom from slavery.

In Washington, DC, there is a statue to Black Union Troops.

There is a statue of Frederick Douglas in the Capitol.

But we have no memorial in Loudoun.

You may not appreciate that there’s good and sufficient history to do so.

Kevin Dulany Grigsby, a Loudoun native, believes his black ancestral heritage from the Civil War has been overlooked, invisible in Loudoun County, particularly how Blacks fought for the Union.

“It was the movie, ‘Glory’,” Kevin said, “while I was a Junior at Loudoun County High School, that revealed to me that there had been black soldiers fighting for the Union in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.”

“It was my cousin, Vernon Peterson,” Kevin said, “who first told me, that there were Black Soldiers from our Loudoun County who fought for the Union.  He told me the story of Dennis Weaver, an African-American Civil War veteran, who was buried in the Rock Hill Cemetery in Southwestern Loudoun.”  Weaver, Kevin learned, had been a slave in the Bluemont area and enlisted at – what we now know – as Theodore Roosevelt Island.

These revelations contrasted sharply with what Kevin had been taught about blacks in school.  “In our Loudoun County school text book,” Kevin said, “they pictured blacks as families of slaves, the few pictures they showed, and all I could see was pain and suffering.  I was embarrassed, and it brought upon me a sense of shame.”

“We must tell the whole story,” Kevin said, “because it hasn’t been told, not about the historic battles when Black Soldiers fought, nor is it reflected in Loudoun County’s monuments.”

It was Frederick Douglass who said of Blacks, slave and freemen, that this was “the very class of men which have a deeper interest in the defeat and humiliation of the rebels than all others.”

But Loudoun has been slow to acknowledge this truth, what Douglass and the black Union soldiers contributed to our union, either by word, or any County memorials, not even the plaque in Waterford honoring the Loudoun Rangers who supported the Union.

Kevin said the price for a Black fighting for the Union was dear: “The Confederacy decreed that colored Union soldiers (whether born free or enslaved) would face enslavement if captured.  Many black soldiers understood that the threat of enslavement also meant the likelihood of execution or torture if captured.”

The graves in Loudoun County, reproduced in Kevin’s book, show the headstones of Black Union soldiers, and, by his research, he’s uncovered the names of 260 Blacks who were in the Army from Loudoun County and 12 who were in the Navy, ranging in age from 15 to 60, including freedmen, slave, skilled and unskilled laborers.  There were 163 “Colored” Union Army Regiments, and about a third of those had a native from Loudoun County.

Olmstead Turner, born in Loudoun County, a brick maker by trade, served in Company K of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, who achieved the rank of Sergeant, and distinguished himself in the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina.

In the Massacre at Fort Pillow, Kevin wrote, “[m]any black soldiers lived by a creed of ‘fight to the death’ rather than surrender and be enslaved, tortured, or executed at the hands of the Confederacy.”

Nearly 25% of the Black Union soldiers from Loudoun County fought in the Battle of New Market Heights and Chattin’s Farm, and 14 African-American soldiers were awarded the medal of honor.

There are those who say slavery would have died out – without the Civil War.

But Kevin has studied the stats and they reveal that, while importing slaves was banned in 1808, the Southern States had more every year.  Virginia had 292,627 slaves in 1790 and 490,865 by 1860.  Virginia even supplied slaves to the other states.

“Black regiments,” Kevin wrote, “helped propel the Union Army to victory by overcoming frightening obstacles.”  Still they are ignored in Loudoun’s history and on our courthouse green.

Former General and President Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his Memoirs long ago his hope that, “[a]s time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.”

In recognition that we know now to reject this inhumane historical institution that treated men and women as property, we must erect statues to honor Douglass and Loudoun County’s Black Union soldiers on the Leesburg County Court House lawn.