Origins of the Association
By Yulanda Burgess
Founding Member, USCTLHA
Since the 1960s, Civil War living history/reenacting has been a popular method for presenting an important chapter of the United States history. However, among the thousands of people portraying Union and Confederate soldiers, sailors and civilians, there were few African Americans involved. Throughout the decades there were evidence and sightings of African Americans participating in Civil War commemorative events, but never in numbers that would tantamount to a full company of soldiers in blue. This was finally realized in 1997 at the 100th anniversary of unveiling of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ monument to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment.
The National Park Service put out a massive call for all individuals portraying the United States Colored Troops to present arms in Boston in May 1997 to pay tribute to the only monument dedicated to African Americans who fought in the Civil War. Approximately 105 black men, 30 civilians and an unknown number of men portraying white officers answered the call to the “Hope and Glory” event. The occasion included symposiums, banquets, musical concerts, and the monuments re-dedication with dignitaries present. “Hope and Glory” was highlighted with the famous dress parade on May 28th of men marching four abreast through the streets of Boston and Beacon Hill. During that time — and to this date — it was considered the largest gathering of African Americans who interpret Civil War history. Thus a grand vision was contemplated: “Why can’t this turn-out happen more often?” The opportunity to discuss this concept was recognized immediately.
An immediate call for a wrap-up session was spread through the ranks of participants. On the last day of “Hope and Glory” on the Charles River banks it was proposed that the momentum from that event be used to achieve a much needed institution in Civil War reenacting: the stronger presence of United States Colored Troops and its connective civilians. A pledge was given to strive for a concerted effort to establish a national brigade organization of historians and reenactors that would help facilitate the presentation and research of the United States Colored Troops’ history. Many Union and Confederate organizations had achieved great success under a brigade structure and the vision for a United States Colored Troops constituency was recognized as an appropriate approach.
In the insuing years, several attempts were made to develop this brigade type organization. It was finally realized on November 4-6, 2005 when the United States Living History Association was organized in Dayton, Ohio under the theme of “To beget unity, love, brotherly kindness and charity.”
It was anticipate that the meeting would begin focusing on the following areas:
- Develop an efficient and cost supporting networking and communication system (including a website);
- Establish brigade membership guidelines and by-laws;
- Establish command structures and committees (departments);
- Commence authenticity guidelines for military and civilians;
- Identify reputable and reliable resources for reproduced material culture;
- Establish scholarships for youth and young adults;
- Devise recruitment techniques;
- Identify and target preservation and memorials for USCT connective sites;
- Identify, develop, and implement annual events focusing on USCT history; and
- Identify annual events in conjunction with USV and CSA brigade and independent organizations.
The call for this organizational meeting was answered by thirty-eight individuals. Their common goal: creating a national organization for people who were devoted to the research and historical interpretation of the United States Colored Troops. The official name of the organization was chosen, the mission statement was established, committees were organized, objectives outlined, and interim officers elected. A grand banquet was held to commemorate the overall end result of what these men and women had fought and died for: the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery.
The parting salutatory words given by the Steering Committee to present and future members was the following: “…Approach the challenges you face with enthusiasm and diligence, and to keep our mission as a driving force for your decisions. What we have started will be our legacy. As Frederick Douglass stated in 1852, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome.”
The United States Colored Troops Living History Association was born out of a concept. It is now a reality. Since its inception, the USCT Living History Association has brought together several fractions in an effort to build a solid foundation for preserving the legacy of the United States Colored Troops. It has a glorious future full of hope and strives for glory. It is a unified gathering of men and women from all walks of life who will continue to focus on honoring the legacy of courageous men and women who fought and died from freedom.