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‘Fighting on Two Fronts’ exhibit celebrates Black History Month


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Photo by Wanda Jackson. “Fighting on Two Fronts: Black Military Service in the United States” features a wide array of loaned memorabilia, including an Army issued footlocker, from 1960, provided by Alita Irby and Army boots issued to private Arthur J. Dock during the Korean War, from 1950, courtesy of Dock.

Photo by Wanda Jackson. “Fighting on Two Fronts: Black Military Service in the United States” features a wide array of loaned memorabilia, including an Army issued footlocker, from 1960, provided by Alita Irby and Army boots issued to private Arthur J. Dock during the Korean War, from 1950, courtesy of Dock.

Published on: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By Wanda Jackson

With the U.S. military now permitting women in direct combat, a Black History Month exhibit at Montpelier Arts Center examines another delicate and controversial moment in U.S. military history.

“Fighting on Two Fronts: Black Military Service in the United States” highlights African-American service and support of the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the Vietnam War’s end in 1975. The exhibit runs through Feb. 26.

A reception for the new exhibit and the unveiling of the 2013 Black History Month poster is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The reception is free and open to the public.

The exhibit explores the efforts of African-Americans from 1775 to 1975 “in the changing face of discrimination at home and abroad,” according to its curator.

“We tell the story of these brave men and women as they fought not only for their country but also for their freedom, pride and respect,” the curator stated. “Throughout every war, they fought with courage and valor despite their sometimes poor treatment.”

Through billboard-like panels, the exhibit chronicles this 200-year period when African-American men, women and sometimes children fought, worked and sacrificed in support of the United States. It includes written accounts, photos and other memorabilia provided by area residents and the National Archives.

One panel highlights the American Revolution, when African-Americans “fought to free the United States from the oppression of Great Britain, and for the promise of freedom from slavery.

“Even before they were granted citizenship, African-American soldiers used their service to demonstrate loyalty to their country, believing that military service was a noble calling that would prove their value and get them closer to the equal status.”

Another panel points outs that “they fought to restore the Union and to officially end slavery” during the Civil War.

A third panel emphasizes that African-Americans “fought to end fascism abroad and racism at home” during World War II.

In the exhibit, letters, photos and newspaper accounts add a general tone of each period both at home and abroad, including the public’s “mixed feelings” about the service of African-Americans in the military.

Especially notable are two panels about African-American women and children in the war effort.

The first points out that “women served as nurses, handmaids and spies” and “some disguised themselves as men and fought in combat. One of the most famous spies was Harriet Tubman, a former slave who is known for working to free other slaves through the Underground Railroad. Some called her General Tubman because of her efforts as an unpaid soldier and nurse.”

The other indicates that “the military did not make a direct appeal to the very young,” but it “succeeded in enlisting many young boys as personal servants and drummer boys.” Many youngsters had the especially dangerous job of “loading gunpowder into the cannons.”

The exhibit includes a Black History Month poster that features Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps Officer Dovey Roundtree. The poster, courtesy of the National Archives for Black Women’s History, shows Roundtree’s strength in her erect stance with her left arm by her side and right hand playing the bugle. Viewers will be left to imagine “the bugle call she is making”: Is she relaying instructions from officers to soldiers during battle? Is she signaling the start of a daily routine? Is she playing “Taps” or the Last Post in military rites at a funeral?

The poster was designed by art students from Forestville High School with assistance from their teachers, Carlton Smith and Joshua Smith, and resident artist Curtis Woody.

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