On Wednesday, February 7, WCDS hosted a presentation by and discussion with Dr. Malcolm Beech, the director of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association. As part of the month of Emancipation-themed events at the school organized by Mr. Cook, Dr. Beech gave an overview history of Africans who were forced to America, and then a detailed account of the approximately-200,000 who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
There were many surprises in store for the students in Dr. Beech’s presentation. He gave evidence of the sophistication of Africans who were kidnapped from their homeland into slavery, making it abundantly clear that slaves were not mere savages in the wilderness. Students were intrigued by his stories of a USCT regiment that was formed in and around Goldsboro (the 135th US Colored Infantry) and other tales of the fight for freedom by North Carolina ex-slaves. Complete with uniform and a reproduction (non-firing) Civil War rifle, Dr. Beech painted the heroic picture of the men whom President Lincoln credited with turning the tide of the war.
Dr. Beech’s talk reinforced and gave depth to several of the topics discussed in the previous week’s discussion with Dr. Carmichael. Like in that previous discussion, students were educated about the horrific fate that awaited USCT soldiers—even those who had never been slaves—that fell into the hands of the Confederates, with the example of Fort Pillow once again coming into the conversation. With lively story-telling, Dr. Beech brought to life the gallant men who risked it all for the freedom of their race.
When the presentation and discussion concluded, students were free to come explore additional items that Dr. Beech brought for the school’s benefit: Civil War era currency (both Union and Confederate), exhibits on numerous prominent African-Americans of the era (ranging from Denmark Vesey to Harriet Tubman), and Minié-balls from the Civil War. Students particularly enjoyed the chance to hold the rifle and simulate the complicated task of reloading—left to ponder the terror of being under fire while progressing through the steps of the process.
Students thoroughly enjoyed the journey through the story of the USCT, and many rushed to express their gratitude to Dr. Beech before departing. Dr. Beech invited all students to attend a special event from April 6-8 honoring the USCT in Downtown Goldsboro.
This event was part of a month of events coinciding with the display of a traveling exhibition entitled “Emancipation and Its Legacies,” provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The final two events on the schedule were two “History vs. Hollywood” movie nights hosted by US History Teacher Mr. Cook, who arranged the exhibition. These two events were held on February 12 (Lincoln’s birthday) and 13, and featured the Oscar-winning films “Glory” and “Lincoln”. The exhibit officially ended its time at WCDS on February 14, which was also the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass, a central figure in the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
Mr. Cook wishes to express his gratitude to all of those who attended events and/or took the opportunity to come view the exhibit in order to broaden their understanding of this pivotal American story. He especially appreciates the efforts of Dr. Peter Carmichael and Dr. Malcolm Beech, and the support of the administration and faculty of WCDS. Finally, he encourages anybody with questions or curiosities to feel free to direct questions to him. “As President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, there is ‘unfinished work’ to be done,” Mr. Cook adds. “Let’s not have the memory of our nation’s struggle for freedom fade just because the month of the exhibit has passed; we all carry the torch of those who came before us, and I’ll be happy to do whatever I can to keep the American story alive—for the students and the larger WCDS community alike.”