February 8, 2017

Observances of Black History Month At Trenton’s Old Barracks and Local Sites

THREE CENTURIES OF BLACK SOLDIERS: That’s the title of a program at Trenton’s Old Barracks, taking place later this month. One of several area commemorations of Black History Month, the presentation is by re-enactors who represent African American soldiers who have fought in American wars, from the Revolution onward.

Al Ward and his colleagues from the Sixth Regiment United States Colored Troops Re-enactors Inc. often get the same comment from onlookers when they deliver presentations about African American involvement in American wars.

“People are surprised to hear of the many contributions blacks have made, in everything from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam and beyond,” said Mr. Ward, a retired research scientist at the New Jersey Department of Health. “But black soldiers have been participating in the American military experience from the beginning of our country through the present. It’s a story that needs to be told — and to all Americans, not just blacks.”

Mr. Ward and his fellow re-enactors will be doing just that during a program February 25 and 26 at Trenton’s Old Barracks Museum. The two days of lectures and demonstrations are among several observances of Black History Month planned for various locations throughout the area.

Among them: On February 12, “Take the A Train,” a musical program at Plainsboro Public Library; on February 13, “Black Love Matters — A Conversation About Love and Relationships in the Black Community” at Princeton Theological Seminary; on February 17, “Black History at PTS Matters,” a panel discussion about the role of black history at Princeton Theological Seminary, also at the Seminary; and through the end of February, “Danny Lyon: Memories of the Civil Rights Movement,” an exhibit of photographs at the College of New Jersey Art Gallery in Ewing Township.

Visitors to the Old Barracks Museum on February 25 and 26 will learn about black soldiers in the Revolutionary War, represented by the predominantly African American Rhode Island Regiment; the Civil War, represented by The Sixth Regiment United States Colored Troops; and World War II, represented by The Fifth Platoon. The War of 1812 and the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West will be recognized. And the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I will get special attention in observance of the centennial of that war, taking place this year.

“We’re doing a World War I encampment,” said Mr. Ward. “We’ll talk about people like Neadom Roberts, the black Trenton soldier awarded France’s top military honor, and Mitchell Davis, who was one of Trenton’s first black lawyers and the only black person from Trenton who died in World War I. People will get a factual basis, learning what really happened during the war instead of a distorted picture of American history. These heroes aren’t always recognized.”

Mr. Ward and his colleagues have been staging re-enactments of battles from the Revolutionary War and Civil War for the past 16 years. This is their sixth year of Black History Month presentations at The Old Barracks. “Lots of people come through. We’re thrilled by the turnout,” he said. “It’s our contribution to Black History Month. There are artifacts here, and stories, weapons, re-enactors dressed in uniforms. People love it and we do, too. It’s our mission to tell a story.”

On February 25 at 2:30 p.m., New York University history professor Jeffrey T. Sammons will lecture about his book, Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality. The following day, at the top of every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., actor Chadd Gray will deliver a 20-minute presentation on the life of Eugene Bullard, the first black fighter pilot. Tours of the Old Barracks Museum are included in the admission price ($4; $2 for seniors and students, free for children six and under). The location is 101 Barrack Street, Trenton.