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Black people buried bodies during the Civil War

TheRoot.com often provides snippets of black history that add value to the educational background for many African Americans who didn’t learn much history in high school.  Their 94th “Amazing Fact about the Negro” features the man who buried many of the dead at Gettysburg and their great contribution to this important part of American history.

Professor Henry Louis Gates details the struggle of burying the bodies after these horrible battles, which often fell upon members of the black community.  This is the kind of information that you don’t typically receive when teachers glorify those who won the battles.  Read some of what he has to say:

Walking through the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, I’m always struck by how neat and orderly the rows of headstones appear, where a century and a half before, the soldiers now resting peacefully fought and died during one of the fiercest, and most fabled, military campaigns ever waged on American soil. The stakes then couldn’t have been higher—slavery vs. freedom—nor the ground the soldiers fell on more hallowed. Every stone at Gettysburg contains a story of valiancy and suffering. Each also harbors a less well-known story of burial—and reburial. No soldier killed at Gettysburg ended up in the National Cemetery by divine intervention.

Instead, the serenity we see today was, in 1863, a horrifying scene of carnage everywhere one looked, and it took months of strenuous, stomach-turning labor to transform the ghastly aftermath into a proper place of burial where the living of the town—and the nation as a whole—could commune with the dead through prayer and song. What most of us weren’t taught about Gettysburg, though, is that the job of burying those bodies fell to African Americans who, having suffered personally as a result of the battle, formed burial details in aid of its commemoration. I touched on those men briefly in a previous column in this series, but in investigating the family tree of the brilliantly talented professor, playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith for Episode 3 of Finding Your Roots: Season 2 (airing tomorrow at 8 p.m. ET on PBS), I learned something that took my—and Anna’s—breath away.

 

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