After decades of lobbying, fundraising and planning, the United States Colored Troops Memorial Monument was unveiled June 16 at John C. Lancaster Park in Lexington Park, Md.
The statue, depicting a USCT soldier, was sculpted by Gary Casteel, in honor of two St. Mary's County residents who earned the Medal of Honor for their gallantry in the Battle of Chaffin's Farm in Sept. 1864. The monument is also intended to honor all African-American service members, slave and free, who fought during the Civil War.
The monument is expected to be a tourist attraction for travelers to Maryland and historians throughout the state.
"It's a great distinction for tourism. The only other one in Maryland is on the Eastern Shore." said Kelsey Bush of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. "It's larger than the one that's in D.C. That's intentional."
The project began twenty years ago, when Idolia Shubrooks found her father's USCT muster papers in the attic of the family home. She started researching the Civil War efforts of St. Mary's County's African-American residents.
"Some of our troops were slaves before going into the Army, and they endured a lot," Shubrooks said. "Looking at the statue, it almost makes me feel that it's my grandfather, Alexander Armstrong, so that is what I will call him. Bring your children to see my grandfather, here."
The monument's construction was funded in part through a state bond bill sponsored by Maryland Senator Roy P. Dyson (D-Dist. 29.), matched by individual and corporate contributions to the project, in a grassroots fundraising effort sponsored by the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions, led by Dr, Janice Walthour and Nathaniel Scroggins, at a total cost of approximately $200,000.
"Janice and Nat worked feverishly, trying to get this thing to completion," said Shubrooks.
In her remarks, Walthour said that more than 6,500 African-Americans were enslaved in Maryland at the time of the Civil war. More than 700 of them were recruited to the USCT, joined by more than 60 white Union soldiers from St. Mary's County.
"On this sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we can verify that the lives of these American heroes who died to end slavery and maintain the heritage of freedom--their sacrifices will not be forgotten by the public," Walthour said.
Former St. Mary's County Commissioner Dan Raley, approached by Shubrooks early in the planning stages, credited Shubrooks' tenacity for seeing the project through to completion.
"I remember the many phone calls Idolia gave me. When things were good, she called me 'Dan,'" Raley said. "When they were bad, I was 'Mr. Commissioner.'"
The unveiling ceremony was attended by historians, genealogists, and activists from across the region.
"It's so nice to be among dedicated people who love the history of the blacks," said, Washington, D.C.-based genealogist and Civil War historian Agnes Callum, author of three books on the USCT. "Idolia came to me and from then on I paid very much attention to the work she did."
NAS Patuxent River Executive Officer Capt. Ben Shevchuk praised the USCT who "poured their lives into this kind of history, through hard times, heroic times, and great sorrow. We know what this country is capable of (thanks to the lives of these men)," said Shevchuk. "My parents were immigrants, and many others came overseas to be Americans."
The ceremony included a roll call of the Sons of St. Mary's Union Veterans, and remarks by Sue Kullen, representing U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.); St. Mary's County Commissioners Francis "Jack" Russell and Todd Morgan; Duane Whitlock, Camp Commander, James H. Harris Camp #38, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
"Too many of our citizens throughout history were not seen, were taken for granted, were considered property," said Hoyer. "That young man showed courage and conviction and is the symbol of people of color asked to serve a country that did not see them as full citizens, and extraordinarily, they did it. Not because their country treated them well, but because of what they dreamed this country could be. We've come a long way. There's a long way to go."
The monument is located at John C. Lancaster Park, Willows Road, Lexington Park, Md. For more information, visit www.ucaconline.org/. For more photographs of the ceremony and monument, visit www.Facebook .com/NASPaxRiver.