I just got back from the Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC. It was held in conjunction with Kinston’s Blue-Gray Civil War Living History Weekend in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The event included several lectures, storytelling, a dedication to Kinston/Lenoir County US Colored Troopers, and a (very loud) live weapons demonstration.
I brought a camera, but due to a battery problem, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to use my iPhone to take a few photos, which I’ve posted here. It’s a previous generation iPhone that doesn’t take the best of pictures, but I think these came out well.
The most interesting part of the event for me was the spirited exchange that followed a presentation given by Earl Ijames, the curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina Museum of History, on “The Myth of Black Confederates.” Ijames’ spoke about the role of NC slaves and freemen during the Civil War, including some who acted like soldiers – although Ijames noted that he didn’t use the term “black Confederate soldier” in his talk. Ijames was immediately followed by Asa Gordon, the Secretary General of the Sons and Daughters of United States Colored Troops, who challenged the notion of the widespread existence of willing and loyal black Confederates. This is clearly a very controversial subject, and I expect we’ll see more discussions like this as the War’s sesquicentennial observance continues.
Although there wasn’t a huge turnout, I was heartened to see this much participation in a Civil War related event from what was largely a black audience. I am not yet sure that African Americans are taking an interest – great or small – in the War or its 150th anniversary, notwithstanding academics, professional historians and archivists, and War hobbyists who will always follow this subject. This was a good way to garner more attention and enthusiasm for what is an essential part of American history in general, and African American history in particular. The symposium was produced by Kinston’s Cultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to the commemoration of the role of blacks in the military, especially colored troops (and white Union soldiers) during the Civil War; and to other aspects of African American history.