As we recognize the first day of Black History Month, Preservation Maryland is highlighting our current advocacy work supporting a bill that would establish the Commission to Study African American Civil War Soldiers in Maryland (HB133).

This new commission would be empaneled to study African American troops recruited from Maryland in order to make certain recommendations regarding potential curriculum, memorials to these soldiers, and opportunities to increase awareness of the nearly 9,000 black soldiers from Maryland who fought in the American Civil War. 

Lead photo: Christian A. Fleetwood Photo above: 4th United States Colored Troops. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Preservation Maryland supports efforts like these which bring attention to the unique and diverse history of the state – especially efforts that could result in preservation, recognition, and interpretation of the state’s heritage. 

Our President & CEO Nicholas Redding recently gave oral testimony in support of the proposed legislation, which can be viewed here. Text version below. We’re still working on passage of this bill and hope to see it passed this session.

Good afternoon, my name is Nicholas Redding, I am the President and CEO of Preservation Maryland, the statewide nonprofit, and I am here to offer our emphatic support of this legislation. 

William H. Barnes

William H. Brown

Decatur Dorsey

Christian A. Fleetwood

James H. Harris

Alfred B. Hilton

These are names synonymous with bravery, heroism, and true patriotism. 

They are the names of all African American men who earned the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, during the American Civil War. And all of them were from Maryland.

These six, however, comprise just a small fraction of the over 9,000 African American men from Maryland who served – all of whom deserve their stories to be told, honored, and commemorated. And those 9,000 from Maryland are just an Army corps’ worth of the nearly 200,000 who served from across the nation – a staggering 10% of the US Army that put down the slaveholder’s rebellion. 

That lion of liberty, Maryland’s own Frederick Douglass powerfully explained, 

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny he has earned the right to citizenship.”

It has long since been time for this state to study, honor and celebrate the service of these defenders of democracy. To paraphrase Emerson, “When duty whispered low, Thou must, Black Marylanders replied, I can.”

We have missed the opportunity to shake their hands, to host them in the statehouse they kept safe, or to invite them to a dedication to a monument in their memory – but by providing a favorable report on this bill – we can do the necessary work to ensure our own generation does not repeat the mistake of overlooking their invaluable service.

Let us raise a standard to which the rest of the nation can follow and create this commission to show how the republic was saved by these stalwarts of liberty.