New stamp highlights black soldiers
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Jul 31, 2014, 13:49
BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The United States Postal Service unveiled a new stamp that commemorates the contributions of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.
PETERSBURG — As Lewis Rogers stood before a crowd donned in his national park ranger uniform, with a frosted goatee, round glasses and ranger hat, he remembered a time when racial unrest and social discrimination plagued the country, when hooded Ku Klux Klan members carried American flags down the street, and his cinematically inspired vision of the African American patriotic military hero was crumbled.
With these racial and political images tainting his perspective on what African Americans could or couldn’t be, Rogers believed that there was no way he could have been more than a dishwasher or bellhop unlike African American military movie characters he admired so much.
“I actually believed that that [American] flag did not wave for me. It stood for a different society, and a different people,” Rogers said, with a touch of sadness.
But, one day, Rogers, now the superintendent of the Petersburg National Battlefield, read a small magazine titled “Tony Brown’s Journal,” which detailed the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American military pilots who fought during World War II, and he began to seek out all of the military accomplishments of his heritage, a search that not only rejuvenated his love for the country, but highlighted his place in history.
“What I’ve learned is that we all want to tell those parts of history that mean the most about us from our different points of view. We want to hear those parts that swell us with pride, those parts we want to shape the thoughts and the hearts of our children, those parts that compel us to get out of bed and push on through another day. People want to see themselves in history,” Rogers said.
He said this standing before a large crowd of people at the Petersburg National Battlefield on Wednesday morning, where the United States Postal Service unveiled a new stamp that encapsulates a landmark moment in history, when African Americans fought in organized units during the Civil War, specifically at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg. This was one of the first moments that paved the way for all of the African American military accomplishments that Rogers spoke of.
The stamp, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, is a rendering of “The Charge of the 22nd Negro Regiment, 16th June 1864,” a painting by Andre Castaigne that depicts the charge of a unit of African American soldiers during the Petersburg campaign period of the war.
Phil Jordan proudly stood next to a blown up image of the stamp that he had designed, satisfied that the product showcased exactly what he had intended it to.
Jordan, a stamp designer from Falls Church who has designed more than 265 stamps for the USPS, said that he wanted everyone to understand African Americans provided a “tremendous contribution” during the Civil War, and that they were equipped to handle tasks just as well as men of any other race.
“[The stamp] is absolutely what I wanted,” Jordan said with a smile. “When I selected this piece of artwork, I was trying to illustrate exactly what Lewis [Rogers] said in his presentation. You know, it made him feel, he was seeing himself. He was seeing those contributions. He could see himself. That’s what I wanted.”
Sgt. Charles Harris, a re-enactor of the 22nd Regiment of the United States Colored Troops, travelled through the night from New Jersey to be a part of the ceremony.
Harris was very pleased with the finished stamp, emphasizing that it depicts the honorable roles and involvements of African Americans in the war that many people often overlook.
“You probably won’t find things like this in most history books that our young people read. And that’s why it’s so important to put this on a stamp and people will say ‘Hey, those are black Civil War soldiers,’” Harris said. “They [African American soldiers] were on trial because there were so many people in the north that did not think that regiments of African American soldiers could even fight, but they proved them wrong.”
United States Colored Troops Civil War re-enactors.
More than 178,000 African Americans comprised the United States Colored Troops, troops who were not only fighting for the continuation of the nation, but for their individual freedoms as well, and accounted for about ten percent of the Union Army by the end of the Civil War.
Chief Postal Inspector for the USPS Guy Cottrell spoke at the ceremony on Wednesday and he was proud to be able to unveil the stamp commemorating these troops.
“Brave men put their lives on the line in order to prove that they were fit to be citizens ... and the [USCT] were instrumental in the success of many of the major league war campaigns,” Cottrell said.
Dr. Malcolm Beech Sr., a Civil War USCT re-enactor and founding director of the Cultural Heritage Museum in Kinston, N.C., called the Civil War the “most significant event in the history of African Americans in this country.”
He said that it marked the transition of four million slaves who were all freed by the end of the war because the USCT fought for their own freedoms, in addition to regaining a sense of manhood.
“Slavery had a way of emasculating the men and families, when they couldn’t protect their families against the cruel actions of the slave holder,” Beech said. “So part of this war was about reclaiming and recapturing our manhood. It made a difference when you had a uniform and you had a weapon and you went on to free your family.”
Col. Paul Brooks, garrison commander at Fort Lee, recalled hearing about the Battle of the Crater in one of his classes at West Point Academy, and paid tribute to the thousands of soldiers, of all races, who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the Petersburg Battlefield while creating that chapter of history.
“Throughout our history, hundreds of thousands have paid that same price and countless more have been wounded or captured. Their blood is the ink that much of our history is written in,” Brooks said.
The newly unveiled stamps are Forever Stamps, meaning they can be used to mail a one-ounce letter at any point regardless of when the stamp was purchased.
The stamp ceremony was just one of many events organized by the National Park Service to honor the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Crater.