Photo of members of the First Rhode Island Regiment from their website, here.
This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting some total nerds. Naturally, I mean that in the best way possible. Anyone who's as deeply into something as the members of the First Rhode Island Regiment reenactors are into dramatizing the roles of African Americans in the U.S. Revolutionary War is automatically a nerd. Thing is, they say it's fun and I believe them. The Regiment is part of a larger organization called the Sixth Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Reenactors, who do living history events about African Americans in U.S. military history from the Revolutionary War to the Korean War. Pretty nerdy, wouldn't you say?
The event I went to was a "living history" day in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place on August 27, 1776. Among those who fought that day were members of the original First Rhode Island Regiment. The Battle was a rout for the newly independent country, but oddly the British didn't follow up on the advantage they'd taken, and General George Washington managed to pull out his troops to live and fight another day. (Lots more in "The Battle for New York: the City at the Heart of the American Revolution," by Barnet Schecter.) In the podcast, you'll hear these strangely overlapping time frames, such as when people are shooting off old-fashioned (fake) cannons, even as jets soar overhead. And I was moved to hear the intertwining of little-known African American history with the founding legends and words of the nation, not least of all the Declaration of Independence. Past and present were on display, and African Americans were demonstrating their righful and long-denied place in that past and present. So, what are you waiting for? Go listen!