A presentation by renowned author Dr. James K. Bryant II, of Williamston, on "The 36th U.S. Colored Troops & Battle of New Market Heights" was met with rousing applause Thursday during the Phoenix Historical Society (PHS) educational program at Edgecombe County Veterans Military Museum.
Bryant outlined the sacrifices that African-Americans made during the Civil War. He said slaves ran away from their owners with their families to join the army.
"They were slaves one minute, and the next minute they were fighting for their country," he said. "They proved time and time again that they were worthy of being citizens and they should not have been slaves.
"The history of units like the United State Colored Infantry demonstrates the sacrifice that African Americans have made to our nation. They proved themselves worthy to be part of our nation. I think that learning about this history is important to everyone regardless of their background or origin."
Eight men from Edgecombe County participated in the Battle of New Market Heights as soldiers in the 36th U.S. Colored Troop, according to Phoenix Historical Society. Of them, Charles Lavinghouse, Richard Cherry and Hamilton Pittman were killed in the battle.
The trio was three of 20 slaves that PHS found from Edgecombe County to enlist in the 36th U.S. Colored Troop. PHS also found seven soldiers who fought in the 35th U.S. Colored Troops, and nine who fought in the 37th U.S. Colored Troops. All 36 of the them ran away to New Bern and enlisted in the army in 1863.
Bryant mentioned a white lieutenant in the 36th U.S. Colored Troops, who could have had ties with the Edgecombe County troops.
"George B. Proctor possibly had connection to Edgecombe," he said. "He was in the 25th Massachusetts Infantry. The 25th infantry did have some of their subordinated unit in that area at the time. There could be a connection since Proctor was the enlisted officer for the Edgecombe County."
Retired educator, Dr. Evelyn Johnson, Edgecombe County Public Schools board member member, was one of the approximately 30 people who attended the event. During a questioning and answering session she told Bryant that his remarks were informative.
"This need to be taught in our schools and we need to find a way to do this," Johnson said. "It's not just black history, it's Edgecombe County history and that consist of all people."
Thursday's event was the second by PHS held at the Veterans Museum. Last year the organization presented the Munford Point Marines — black Marines who fought in World War II.
"It's good to partner with the Veterans Museum of Edgecombe County," Mavis Stith, President of the PHS. "And they were open to receive the Phoenix Historical Society to do educational topics about military service."