'Black History Month' celebrations in county very successful

By Greg Miller

Cedar Grove Foundation Director J.C. Augustus says this year's "Black History Month" celebration in Carter County has been a rousing success.
   "The entire celebration that we did through the community was very, very successful," said Augustus, who attends St. Paul United Methodist Church. "It was successful because we were able to draw in all three churches (St. Paul United Methodist, Brown's Chapel AME Zion, and Phillippi Baptist), and all three churches, three different denominations, were able to work together."
   Augustus said she can't remember the three churches ever working together the way they did this year. "Let's Celebrate History," the Civil War display featuring African American soldiers at the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library, also drew many people.
   "There was a lot of traffic for the library, a lot of people coming by, calling, and sending e-mails," Augustus said.
   The display featured Edward Taylor, a young black man who served in the Civil War and who was also the baby brother of the county's oldest known slave, Josephine Taylor. According to Augustus, the display, which will be presented through Friday, drew needed attention to African Americans serving in the Civil War.
   "This was like an unspoken piece of history," she said. "A lot of people don't know about it, and those who do know things don't know as much as they should know. By doing the display, we actually educated the community once again. We had people talking among themselves, going to the library, checking out books, logging onto the Internet trying to find out things about the U.S. Colored Troops."
   Although Augustus is unsure about the total number of African American Carter Countians who served during the Civil War, the Cedar Grove Foundation knows of approximately five. The foundation is currently researching 100 African American men from Carter and Washington Counties.
   "They all tie in with the Taylor family," she said of the five. "They also tie in with some of the slaves that Reuben Brooks owned. He was from the Stoney Creek area, and one of the entire families that he owned had a member who participated in the Civil War."
   More than 200,000 African Americans served in the Civil War, Augustus said, including more than 20,000 soldiers from Tennessee. Three thousand African Americans served in Tennessee's Home Guard militia units, and an estimated 28,000 served in the Union Navy.
   Another event drawing attention to the military service of African Americans was an address to the congregation of Phillippi Missionary Baptist Church given by Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, Jr., who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
   "Several people didn't know anything about the Tuskegee Airmen," Augustus said. "Once again, the foundation was able to bring to light a piece of history that's not so much hidden, it's just not talked about as much as it should be."
   Lt. Morgan's recollection of his experiences "opened up a lot of eyes. Everyone was very receptive to the history that he was talking about," Augustus said.
   Black history in America generally has been overlooked and edited so that major points are omitted, according to Augustus.
   "That's kind of like the Tuskegee Airmen. When you think about fighter pilots from the second world war, you think of bomber pilots, but lots of people don't think of African American men. A lot people don't know that the government would not let young black men fly. That's where this Tuskegee program came in," she said.
   Augustus stated the nation as a whole was hoping that these young men would fail, yet they succeeded.
   "All these young men proved the government wrong. They proved the nation wrong as a whole. The most incredible thing is they never lost a single bomber pilot. Every single bomber pilot that they escorted was able to come back home to their families safe and alive, and a lot of people don't realize that either," Augustus said.
   The Tuskegee Airmen were part of a program that everyone believed would fail simply because the color of their skin wasn't white.
   "How ignorant is that? The fact that they heeded the call that America placed on them to go and fight a war and they succeeded, that is their legacy. They won the battle that all of us here in the states weren't even paying attention to," she said.
   The Tuskegee Airmen were breaking previously unplowed civil rights ground, according to Augustus. "They were fighting a war that hadn't quite yet started within the states, because before you had Rosa Parks keeping her seat on the bus, before you had the marches, before you had the sit-ins, before the Rev. Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, you have the Tuskegee Airmen," she said. "They came before all of that."
   Phillippi Baptist Church celebrated Black History Month with the dedication of the second state historical marker acknowledging and recognizing the accomplishments of African Americans in Carter County.
   The marker commemorates "the founding and history of Phillippi Baptist Church, which was founded by a former slave back in 1865 to 1867. It's pretty much an homage to Horace Leftwich, who came into the area as a slave. Lt. William McQueen brought him into Johnson County, which Horace Leftwich always called home," Augustus said.
   Brown's Chapel AME Zion Church also participated in the Black History Month celebration.
   "It was a celebration of music and worship just for that day," Augustus said. "There was a lot of talk about African American heritage in relation to the Bible."
   For more information about the Cedar Grove Foundation, call 542-2343 or e-mail cedargrovefoundation@earthlink.net.