Why We Remember Forgotten Patriots
Many states and localities commemorate African American History Month. The wisdom to be derived from the commemoration is necessary and useful. Yet, we must remember our history, I say “our history,” because the history of these United States is not coded by color, is not sub-divided by gender; the accomplishment of one is shared by all. There exists no black history, no white, yellow, orange or brown history; there is no single color common to groups, except in mandatory government forms.
Our flesh varies in shade almost immeasurably, no two of us are in color the same, no two of us are in experience the same, we in the United States are the same only in our devotion to the principle that, “All men are created equal” that we, “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”
What is this “Liberty” to which our Declaration of Independence from the Crown of England refers? Liberty is of three types: National, Political, Personal. In the instance of the Declaration, the purpose, the meaning of national and political liberty is obvious: We British citizens would become another thing, another people with political bonds to one another, to Americans, separate and free from England, her laws and her control.
National liberty was accomplished in victory of the War for Independence; political liberty was accomplished with ratification of the Constitution of the United States; the accomplishment of personal liberty has been difficult to achieve, and difficult to understand.
From the British we inherit many things: Constitutional government, enlightenment, slavery. It is slavery, this property in persons which has contradicted the self-evident right of “personal liberty” stated in the Declaration. Only lately have we begun to realize the promise of Liberty in all its forms. Only recently have we discovered those thousands of our Founders whose shades of skin are as rich and varied as is the earth.
We now know that 5,000 to 10,000 Americans with some degree of African heritage served in our War of Independence from Britain. These Founders, these patriots, these Americans will be remembered in the National Liberty Memorial, authorized by Congress, to be constructed in the Monumental Core of Washington, The District of Columbia.
The memorial will be designed in a style suitable to the persons remembered, it will be beautiful, it will be meaningful, it will include a heroic statue of an American patriot of African heritage; it will, in narrative relief, picture the brief history of the war and the soldiers both free and slave who battled for our national, political, and personal liberty.
Here we remember our patriots of African descent, because they, more than others, most immediately understand the call to “personal liberty”. We remember Salem Poor whose gallantry at Bunker Hill was cited in petition to the Court of Massachusetts, “In justice to the Character of so Brave a man…we declare that A Negro Man Called Salem Poor…behaved like an Experienced Officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier, to Set forth Particulars of his Conduct would be Tedious, We Would Only beg leave to say in the Person of this Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier”.
We remember Jack Arabas who bargained with his master to win manumission in exchange for military service, who risked wounds, capture, starvation, disease and death in the hope of personal liberty, and we remember his dishonest master who reneged on the promise of freedom, and too we remember that an American court would set Jack Arabas free in honor of his military service.
We remember the redoubtable Mr. James Robinson, who at Yorktown was decorated for military valor by General Lafayette, and who after the war was returned to slavery in the deep, deep South. Yet, such was Robinson’s valor that he again served his country in the War of 1812, and such was his will that he waited until after our Civil War to finally win his freedom. You will find the grave of Mr. Robinson next to governors and senators at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
We remember that Americans of African ascent served in every major battle of the war. We agree with the observation of one old veteran about his fellow soldiers, slave and free, “Brave and hardy troops. They helped to gain our liberty and independence“. And, in The National Liberty Memorial, we acknowledge that Americans of African descent are counted among our Founding Fathers. Today we remember Crispus Atticus, an American of African ascent, the first to fall in the Massacre at Boston. Today is a day of remembrance for all Americans, with special recognition given to those who have done the most, who have suffered most in the struggle of personal liberty for all.
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Liberty Fund DC is a not-for-profit organization incorporated to create a memorial honoring African Americans of the Revolutionary War as described in Public Law 112-239. The National Liberty Memorial will demonstrate historic American values at work in the nation’s founding and in the achievement of African Americans who fought for our nation’s liberty.
Enabling legislation will allow Liberty Fund D.C. to construct a traditional, heroic memorial on Federal Land, within Area 1 of the District of Columbia; to develop interactive programs that will educate citizens about African American Patriot contributions to America’s War for Independence; to demonstrate the Patriots influence on subsequent generations; and to inspire youth to the achievement of exemplary citizenship. Further, the Memorial will encourage genealogical and historical research to uncover connections between these long neglected Patriots and Americans from all backgrounds.
Liberty Fund DC was founded in 2005 to complete the unfinished business of constructing a memorial to honor African American contributions to national liberty in the Revolutionary War. The genesis of the Memorial was Lena Santos Ferguson’s determination to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR.) Ms. Ferguson’s efforts led to a path for black women to join the DAR; the identification and publication of over 5,000 names of forgotten African-American Patriots; and the initial Memorial legislation, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The following twenty years of research and writing confirmed the worthiness of the project. In January of 2013, Liberty Fund DC (an IRS tax-exempt 501C-3 organization) was entrusted to construct The National Liberty Memorial; Liberty Fund DC has identified an appropriate site near the Washington Monument; design, and fundraising has begun.
Maurice Barboza is chairman of the organization. Michael Curtis has assisted, these past 25 years.