Dressed in colorful African dashikis, the women of Green Valley Baptist Church and Work in Progress, poured hearts, souls and voices into traditional Negro spirituals last Saturday evening at the Young Center in Clinton.
Their performance began the first event of a year long observance of the 200th anniversary of the Civil War. Grants obtained by Alma Blair, Hickman County’s Librarian brought assistant professor of dance and theater Daryl Harris to Clinton.
The two singing groups combined their considerable musical talents on several soulful pieces. The music, sung without instrumental accompaniment, harkened back to a period when voice was the only instrument available to slaves and former slaves. Green Valley Choir Director Rose Duffy belted out “Goin’ Home to Live with God” in her warm contralto backed up by the members of the choirs. To see a video clip of the music, go to The Hickman County Times
The soulful music put the audience of sixty plus in the mood to listen to Professor Harris discuss “Hair to the Red, White and Black: A Look at the Colored Troops of the Civil War.” Harris read a collage of contemporary letters, cited historical references and recited poetry in dialect.
He recounted the views and experiences of well known persons of the Civil War era like Frederick Douglass. The famous black abolitionist met with President Lincoln on at least two occasions in the White House. Lincoln sought Douglass’ advice on the Emancipation Proclamation and raising levies of black troops. Douglass urged the President to issue the Proclamation and recruit black soldiers. Two of Douglass’ sons served in the military. Frederick Douglass took an active role in the war effort, forming two black regiments on his own.
In addition to the famous, Harris shared recollections of forgotten soldiers. Slaves and former slaves wrote home of their experiences at war. The great majority of black soldiers fought for the Union. When they were allowed to enlist after a Revolutionary era law forbidding black men from carrying weapons was overturned in 1862, recruits poured in. 180,000 men enlisted. 20% of them died during service from wounds or disease. By the end of the war, 10% of the Union Army consisted of colored troops.
The South also had black men in service, though their status as soldiers was poorly documented. Some were slaves or bond men taken or sent to war by their masters. Some served as soldiers, but records of their service were altered to list them in noncombatant roles.
Black women also served in the conflict. Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of slaves to freedom before the war, went back to enemy territory as a spy and recruiter of spies. She led a successful raid into Confederate territory. For her efforts, Tubman was paid $200 for three years work by the North. She was denied a pension in her own name, but received a widow’s pension on the death of her second husband.
The audience of sixty two people ranged in age from toddler twins to senior citizens. Marie Jackson, now living in Paducah, is a former Clinton resident. She had been telling her friends about arts and history events in Clinton. It was a claim that residents of the much larger city found hard to believe. Marie brought some of her Daughters of the Confederacy Paducah Chapter and proved her point. The other Daughters agreed that the program was well worth the drive.