Today's blog comes to us from Y'hoshua Murray, one of the organizers of the Pennsylvania Grand Review Project that is celebrating African-Americans' service to the Union during the Civil War. This entry reports on training sessions recently held in Pittsburgh to prepare volunteers for the re-enactment of the Grand Review of the African-American units of the Union armies in Harrisburg this November. Similar training and commemoration sessions will be held throughout Pennsylvania this fall, prior to the re-enactment.
Friday September, 17, 2010
The Pennsylvania Grand Review Project is still strong and growing: this week nineteen new cadets were enlisted into the ranks. The new recruits were designated as "Company B," and the veterans designated as "Company A." Men new to the program attend various schools in Pennsylvania such as Shippensburg, Indiana, Millersville, and Cheney Universities. Most of the participants, including staff, made the journey from Harrisburg via chartered bus; the two Pittsburgh natives were at the Holiday Inn located on the University of Pittsburgh's campus, eagerly waiting to greet them. En route to Pittsburgh, the participants watched a classic movie directed by Spike Lee - "School Daze." Once the group checked-in to the hotel, the customary "forum" ensued. Forum is a seminar-style discussion held once a day, either in the morning or evening, when the group meets. Led by Lenwood Sloan (director of the project), it is a time to discuss various themes related to the project. On Friday evening, the forum discussion centered on historical and contemporary representations of African American identity.
After the forum, the group went to an education program hosted by the Senator John Heinz History Center - the largest museum and archive in Western Pennsylvania. The program included two enlightening segments. Professor Veronica Watson, of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, used Chandra Manning's monograph, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, to show the audience how to utilize primary sources (specifically journals and letters) for historical research. The group also had a chance to meet Dr. Martin R. Delany (represented by Jeffery Burton, professional living-history interpreter, and a cadet in the PA Grand Review Project). Dr. Delaney was an accomplished physician, editor, activist, and the first African American major in U.S. military history. Professor Channing's presentation will aid the cadets when they do individual research on Pennsylvania's Colored Troops, which is one aspect of the project. Mr. Graham O'Neill, National Archives at Philadelphia, does the majority of the primary research for the PA Grand Review Program. The cadets would be lost without him. Dr. Delany's re-enactment was also informative for the cadets by helping them bring the Colored Troops back to life at the PA Grand Review in November! After the program the group returned to the hotel for the evening.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
The marquee event for the day was a visit to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Museum located in Oakland. John L. Ford, professional historian, lecturer, and Civil Rights activist, hosted us. As a private collector of African and African American artifacts for over forty years, historians have appraised his holdings as the largest such collection in the United States! Prior to creating and maintaining the exhibit at the Soldiers and Sailor Museum, Mr. Ford's career began as the first African American employed by Abrason and Walker Reactionaries in Pittsburgh. He also served as lead curator for several other prominent exhibits in the Pittsburgh area: "Free At Last?: Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries" and "Underground Railroad in Pittsburgh (sponsored by the Heinz History Center and the University of Pittsburgh); and "Slavery in America," sponsored by the Community College of Allegheny County.
The cadets of the PA Grand Review program had the honor to receive a private tour of the exhibit "Slave to Soldier: Transition from Servitude to Service" currently on display at the Soldiers at Sailors Museum. Following the tour Mr. Ford led the group forum which was centered on the components of the exhibit: "Enslavement," "Abolition," "United States Colored Troops," Citizen and Veteran," and "Gettysburg." The dialogue with Mr. Ford allowed the cadets to receive valuable information regarding African Americans' citizenship and service, and to ask questions that will guide them on their road to the PA Grand Review.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Beginning at 8:30 am with "morning song," Sunday proved to be one of the most progressive "training" days for the cadets. Morning song, a daily practice, is when the participants come together and...well...sing! Indeed, during this period of spiritual uplift and brotherly fellowship, the participants sing a number of songs reminiscent of the antebellum period. The songs, each containing a specific historical message, give the cadets an opportunity to become closer with the PA United States Colored Troops by harmonizing together the same way the soldiers did when they were enlisting, training, marching, or mourning the loss of a comrade. More importantly, the art of singing spirituals and coming together to worship are two of the most deeply-rooted themes in the African American experience, dating back to slavery. After singing "Amazing Grace," Mr. Sloan held forum once again. This time, he shared the often forgotten, horrific, and yet ironically miraculous origins of the hymn. The song was composed by an English slave trader, John Newton, from a personal experience. A slave trader who grew up without any particular religious conviction, one night Newton encountered a terrible storm at sea and prayed to God to spare his life. In return, he vowed that he would cease to engage in the African slave trade. Well, Newton survived, and the very next day he wrote "Amazing Grace." Mr. Sloan also discussed historical anecdotes about "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "Shall We Gather at The River." As usual, the cadets engaged in an insightful discussion about the origins of each song and how they underscore themes relevant to the PA Grand Review.
After morning song and forum, Company A and Company B split into different camps to "train" for the remainder of the day. The task for Company A was to fine-tune their lyceum orations. Lyceum is directed by Mr. James Murdoch, historian and member of the Pennsylvania Past Players, and Ms. Nancy Hasting, writer, teacher, playwright, and professional actor. When delivering living-history orations, Mr. Murdoch appears as Richard Sautter, one of the most well-known actors in mid-19th century America. Mr. Murdoch instructs the participants on public speaking elocution. At the PA Grand Review in November, each cadet will deliver several orations explaining why their soldier has "come back from the past." The cadets can select from themes of liberty, fraternity, community, and equality, or incorporate all of them into their orations. Regardless, the brave men of the United States Colored Troops embodied all of these themes in the years before, during, and after they served in the Civil War. The training for Company B - the new recruits - entailed learning basic marching formations, commands, and protocol. Drill was led by Mr. Joe Becton, who is a scholar, lecturer, and professional living-history interpreter. Once drill was complete for the day, the cadets gathered at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral Of Learning where Company A delivered orations, and Company B marched for the students and general public. The display was splendid! The cadets of the PA Grand Review have come a long way since they first met in June at Penn State University. Not only have we learned a massive amount of information about the United States Colored Troops, but we have developed bonds among ourselves and with the staff. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that the rich history of the Pennsylvania USCT will not be forgotten, and in November, that we make all of their descendants proud as we march at the PA Grand Review and re-live the lives of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.