"It Was Their Vision of America That Prevailed"
The Closing Remarks of Maurice A. Barboza
Founder of Black Revolutionary War Patriots Foundation
Nineteenth Street Baptist Church Washington, D. C.
Thursday, December 2, 2004
Rev. Dr. Harkins, Mr. Jones and World Vision DC, thank you for
gathering together this dynamic assembly and for your lifelong
commitments to justice and the community of human kind. Ms.
Williams and Mr. Johnson: your music and voices speak of the unseen,
yet deeply felt, history still influencing our lives and the hope
that its sweetest lessons are transmitted to future generations.
Thirteen Februarys ago, thirteen Black History Months ago, in 1991,
President Bush, President George Herbert Walker Bush, called upon
the nation to support the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial.
In the Oval Office, after making a generous personal contribution
himself, he said, "think about how much they must have loved this
country, how they believed in its dreams. It's an astounding
devotion. It's in a league by itself."
Three years before the President's remarks, in 1988, the U.S.
Congress had declared the deeds of those patriots to be of
"preeminent historical and lasting significance to the
nation." And three years before that, in 1985, Congress passed
a joint resolution honoring the role of blacks in the American
Revolution. These were the early efforts -- the milestones and
hurdles of which there are many -- that brought us to this beautiful
and historic church for “An Evening of Unity.”
Besides the more than 5,000 black soldiers and sailors of the
American Revolution, the Patriots Memorial will honor the countless
slaves who ran away to freedom or petitioned courts and legislatures
for liberty during that era. This includes the estimated
10,000 African Americans who ran over to the British because they
thought they might secure their freedom quicker that way. This
memorial is not about war, patriotism or country; it is about the
international yearning of human beings to be free.
The Patriots Memorial will stand on an acre of land, midway between
the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Twenty years
ago, when I ascended the top step of DAR Constitution Hall and
looked South across the Mall, I knew immediately that this was where
the memorial had to stand. At the time, the World War II
Memorial had not been built. There was no path through
Constitution Gardens connecting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the
Washington Monument. People suggested that perhaps there was a
site with more traffic potential.
Not only is this site on hallowed ground, it is now on a
heavily-traveled path that tourists of every hue and background use
on their journey to comprehend American history in Washington's
landscape. There are estimates that as many as 60 proposals
for new memorials are currently pending at the National Park
Service. Can you imagine how many other worthy projects have
designs on this site.
it are the elegant Reflecting Pool and a memorial to the signers of
the Declaration of Independence. Now, with the trees around
the lake fully grown, you have to stretch to see the roof of DAR
Constitution Hall. But its presence is felt. In a couple
of years, this memorial’s presence will be felt over there.
This is not a remote corner of a ghetto or an isolated spot few will
ever see. This is one of the most heavily traveled tourist areas in
the nation. Over six (6) million people, from every city and town,
visit there every year. They return home with photographs and
memories they share with family and neighbors for years to come.
The idea for the memorial arose out of a photograph, a family, and a
set of bizarre circumstances. I remember the moment that my
eyes locked on an old photograph hanging in my grandmother’s house.
This was before I entered kindergarten. As an adult -- 26
years ago -- the fading image set me on a journey through microfilm,
cemeteries, town halls, and the minds of family members. The
quest was to find out why in my otherwise inviting hometown in
Connecticut, where few people looked like us, that I felt like an
outsider – despite the fact that I, too, was an American.
There was no segregation or overt discrimination to render blunt
clues to a child. Instead, Plainville, Connecticut in the
1950s was like what most of America is today – a place of subtle
contradictions. So, I thought the clues might lie in who were
my black and white ancestors and how my family came to be.
I believe that the dead can speak from the grave through objects,
deeds, memories, and feelings they planted inside of us.
So, I tried to listen. Eventually, what I heard was that the
forgotten patriots and freedom seekers of the Revolutionary war
never intended to remain forgotten forever. The clues they
left for historians and for all of us are overwhelming. The
message is clear: they want us to continue their fight to make this
nation truly shine.
incomplete history lessons my white classmates and I sat through,
the most important thing we absorbed was that the Declaration of
Independence imposed on all citizens the duty to set things right.
Wiser now, I also know that this includes pruning the still painful
thorns concealed in the founding fathers’ laurels, as well as those
passed on to their descendants.
Patriots Memorial will be a symbol for our time, for all time, and
for all people. Former congressman Parren J. Mitchell of
Maryland -- testifying before Congress in 1985 -- said that on this
site, the memorial will remind us that "we've been there fighting
and dying, from the Revolution to Vietnam." He meant all of us
Race relations in
America require improvement and constant attention. Blacks,
whites, and those of colors in between, coexist uneasily in our
cities and towns. Violence and recrimination are commonplace.
Mindless brutality can occur in any city at any moment.
Demagoguery, suspicion and prejudice obstruct the pathways to
understanding. Individual security and national harmony are
The memorial will
challenge stereotypes, improve race relations and add a permanent
work of art, and potent message, to the nation's landscape.
The memorial seeks to address racial divisiveness by using common
history as a tool to promote "One Nation."
We are the heirs of over 350 years of stereotypes and an incomplete
history -- that is not our doing. It's no accident that some
whites may discriminate or that some blacks indiscriminately hate.
America pays a high price for bigotry and hatred that dwarfs the
balance of trade deficit. If graduates don't learn how to get
along with each other before they leave school, they won't do much
better at work. This devalues the world's most significant
multicultural society in the eyes of our competitors.
The Patriots Foundation may be in a race against a Congressional
deadline. The site will be forfeited unless the funds are raised by
October 2005. But America is in a race against a wedge of
divisiveness being driven deeper into the nation's soul.
The Patriots Memorial will not be a piece of marble and granite
anchored to the earth to bear witness to the deeds of one people.
It was not proposed because memorials in Washington that honor
African Americans are outnumbered 50 to 1 by those that honor
everyone else. We weren't out to rectify a memorial imbalance
or to say do for us what America has done for other Americans. If we
were, we would be trivializing, and breaking faith with, the values,
patriotism and selflessness of the people we seek to honor.
Contrary to popular knowledge most blacks fought side-by-side with
whites in all of the major battles, from Lexington and Concord to
Yorktown. Amazingly enough, some endured horrible hardships
for the entire duration. The heroic First Rhode Island
Regiment is an example of one of just a few all-black regiments.
Most slaves volunteered to serve as substitutes for their masters
and others in exchange for promises of freedom. Free blacks
risked life and limb in the hopes of winning equal rights.
They made conscious choices as did thousands of slaves who served as
guides, spies, messengers and nurses. There were many heroes.
These black patriots left a legacy. They organized churches
and self-help groups that would light the way for future
generations. They used the courts to file freedom suits,
sought to vote, and pleaded for equal education opportunity.
At least one veteran ran for public office in Maryland. They
formed family units whose immediate off-spring served America in
other wars, including the Civil War. They weren't just picking
cotton, singing spirituals and waiting for a savior. Their
faith told them that they were God's instrument for justice.
When the test came as to whether the slaves who served would be
re-enslaved, the governor of Virginia asked the legislature for
authority to prosecute masters who might back out on their promises.
A law was passed that says those black patriots "contributed towards
the establishment of American liberty and independence."
What is the value of this history and why are we so intent on seeing
it memorialized on the Mall? One of our principal sponsors,
Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy L. Johnson, said it best: "The
most powerful weapon against prejudice is the knowledge that our
freedom and independence are the consequence of the combined efforts
of all Americans black and white. The inaccurate record of
American history, neglecting the black role, has helped to
perpetuate discrimination based on ignorance."
All of us were taught the same incomplete history. It's no
wonder that we treat one another so poorly. But we need not be
captives of that history. It would be wrong to condemn any of
our fellow Americans to the dark tunnel of bigotry when we have the
power to show them the way out. Many Americans have never been
shown a positive image of a black person. When such a person
is a respondent in an anonymous poll, he says that blacks don't work
as hard as whites, that they prefer to live off welfare; that they
are violence-prone; that they are less intelligent and that blacks
are less patriotic than whites.
blacks fail to associate the white person they pass on the street
with the long train of white people who stood beside their ancestors
in the fight for freedom and equality. Long before two white
students and a black man -- Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner --
sacrificed their lives that Freedom Summer in Philadelphia,
Mississippi 40 years ago this June, white heroes put their lives and
livelihoods on the line for freedom. The lawyer Theodore
Sedgwick won a case in Massachusetts just after the Revolution that
released Elizabeth Freeman from bondage and ended slavery there.
John Quincy Adams fought the southern slave power in Congress with
tenacity, filing petition after petition to end slavery.
My own great great grandfather, John Curtis Gay, a white man
from Maine, gave his life for the cause of freedom during the
Civil War when he was gunned down at Cold Harbor, Virginia.
But for the photograph he took days before, and which was passed
down to me, there would be no Black Revolutionary War Patriots
Memorial. That was the clue that piqued my curiosity and
that brought me up the steps to this sacred place this evening.
In actions spanning two centuries, they, and the black patriots,
struggled to refashion the U.S. Constitution of 1787 into the
image of the Declaration of Independence. They believed
that “all men are created equal,” was a far higher principle
upon which to base a “revolution” than the right -- many claimed
as divine -- to hold another human being in bondage.
Instead of being liberated, slaves were branded three-fifths a
two hundred years, slave holders and the upholders of Jim Crow,
literally, stuffed their slaves into the ballot box or drove
them away from the polls. It was “one white man, 100
slaves, 61 votes.” Oh, what power they wielded until 1963
to enrich themselves, twist history, and endanger national
security by creating a citizenry that distrusts one another.
Despite these horrors, just as it is wrong to prejudge a black
person, it is wrong to prejudge a white person and the spirits on
their family tree. Any project to honor the historical
contributions of blacks also will illuminate those white patriots
who aided, or simply, respected their struggle.
If those among us who are so visually and
psychologically-impaired when it comes to knowing the true
nature of blacks and whites were instead addicted to alcohol or
drugs, we would say that they had a disease and that society has
an obligation to treat them medically -- and to treat them
compassionately. We say, let's treat them with a massive dose
of the truth about I have some personal experience in this
area. For four years, from 1980 to 1984, I watched my dear
aunt, Lena Santos Ferguson, fight bigotry to become a member of
the Daughters of the American Revolution. Although only one of
my grandparents was born in the U.S., and I am the son of an
immigrant from the Cape Verde Islands, three soldiers of the
American Revolution are my ancestors. I'm honored to be their
five-generations-removed grandson, but I wish one day that I'll
also discover one who is black. |
When the national controversy about
my aunt ended successfully, I decided that a memorial to black
patriots should be built within eye-view of DAR Constitution Hall --
the place where black opera singer Marian Anderson was barred from
performing in 1939. Poetically, the DAR was among the first
organizations to lend support. My aunt's settlement agreement,
signed in 1984, required the DAR to bar discrimination in
membership and identify every black soldier who served in the war
for Independence. They still have work to do; but, today, over
2,000 black soldiers are now listed in a book available to the
public and available to any black woman who wants to claim her
heritage, join the DAR, and say, "my ancestor helped found America,
For the most part, the black
patriots of the American Revolution were dead and forgotten by the
Civil War. If The Patriots Foundation had the power to
reincarnate them on the Mall for just one evening, we could raise
the memorial's construction funds overnight.
Since that won't happen, the next best thing would be for faith
based organizations to lead a campaign in our cities great and small
that would resurrect the spirit of those patriots and make everyone
feel we have a future as one nation. This would give every
citizen a chance to buy both a spiritual and a financial stake in
the memorial. Doing so could transform this “Evening of Unity”
into a future of perpetual unity.
The amount of money you raise is as important as the awareness that
your support creates. We welcome any and all contributions --
with equal gratitude. With a vested interest in the memorial,
thousands of Americans will flock to the site for the dedication --
reminiscent of Marian Anderson's 1939 concert at the Lincoln
Memorial and the 1963 March on Washington.
The potential of your work to do good is immeasurable. A few
years from now, when visitors return home after experiencing The
Patriots Memorial, they will see black people as if through a new
set of eyes. If they happen to be black, the likeness that
they used to see in a mirror will be changed forever -- as well as
their concept of fellow blacks and fellow whites.
Black kids, bombarded by false notions of who they are, will be able
to peel back the mask of insecurity and rise to the true level of
their potential. When they come to understand that common
people can be uncommonly heroic and honorable -- even slaves -- they
will be more respectful of their parents, teachers and those around
We will learn that millions of
black men, women and children had "a dream that was deeply rooted in
the American dream" generations before Martin Luther King, Jr. was
born -- and that they acted on that dream. We will learn that
blacks began seeking freedom and equality more than 100 years before
the Emancipation Proclamation.
bronze relief and freestanding figures of black patriots coming to
life on the national Mall will change us forever. No one who
publishes books, teaches or makes motion pictures will be able to
ignore this history again. Skeptics around the world might
never again have cause to question if America practices the
principles it preaches.
Americans will come to recognize that while those black patriots
were not present to debate the Declaration of Independence or the
Constitution, they are nonetheless founding fathers and mothers.
After all, it was their vision of America that prevailed.
CONTACT: Maurice A. Barboza
Essie Mae Washinton-Williams Memorial
spokesperson and daughter of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
World Vision United States -Sponsor a child and help world
relief efforts through charitable donations to World Vision. Our
child sponsorship programs need your support to fight famine and
Nineteenth Street Baptist Church -
Society of the Sons of the American Revolution The home page of
the Sons of the American Revolution SAR, American Revolution,
independence, freedom, U.S. Constitution, scholarships, genealogy,
history, patriotic, U.S. flag
Daughters of the American Revolution National Society The DAR,
founded in 1890, is a volunteer women's service organization
dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history......
Thurmond's Daughter Tells Story in Book ...Essie Mae
Washington Williams speaks during a news conference in Columbia,
Cape Verde Islands The uninhabited islands were discovered and
colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century; Cape Verde
subsequently became a trading center for African slaves...
Nancy L. Johnson Congresswoman Nancy L. Johnson An Independent Voice
Fifth District. State of Connecticut homepage.
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