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Forgotten Black Americans

Updated on September 18, 2015
1851 Painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
1851 Painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Peter Salem

It's a little known fact, 209,000 black soldiers fought in the American Civil War. That’s just one example of how many history books have either glossed over the rich American heritage of Black Americans or failed to include them at all.

Most know about Dutch traders coming up Virginia’s James River in 1619 and starting slave trade in America. But rarely will one hear it was Muslims that attacked African villages, put them in chains and sold men, woman and children into bondage to the Dutch traders.

Another example was at about the same time a ship arrived in the Puritan Christian Colony of Massachusetts with slaves. The officers were arrested and imprisoned. Their human cargo was returned to Africa at the colony’s expense.

One notable black American was Frederick Douglas born in1818. He was a slave in Maryland born to a black mother and an unknown white father. Douglas spoke and wrote against slavery and was a major force in advocating civil rights. He was an adviser to many presidents including Lincoln and after the civil war Grant, Hayes and Garfield.

Ensign Jesse LeRoy Brown in a F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950
Ensign Jesse LeRoy Brown in a F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950

Then there was the famous Dred Scott decision in 1857 where a Democratic Controlled Supreme Court declared blacks were not persons or citizens, only property and therefore had no rights. As our Declaration of Independence states, all men are created equal. However, frequently throughout American history one wouldn’t know it.

Many blacks contributing to our history seem to have been forgotten. Who were Oliver Cromwell and Prince Whipple? Cromwell served under General George Washington, joining the Continental Army at the very beginning of the war. He served for seven years and crossed the Delaware with Washington. Many believe he is the one beside Washington in the famous painting, while Prince Whipple is believed to be the one fighting the ice. Washington personally signed Cromwell’s discharge papers and awarded him a medal. After returning home to Burlington, NJ, he was regarded as a local hero. He died at the age of 101 in 1853.

Peter Salem was a member of the Massachusetts Minutemen and involved in a number of important battles, including the battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, American troops assembled at Boston to confront 5,000 British troops. Outnumbered American forces were winning until an ammunition shortage began turning the tide in favor of the British. When it appeared the Americans were near defeat, British commander Major John Pitcairn shouted, "The day is ours!" At that point a well aimed shot by Salem dropped him in his tracks. In the following chaos the Colonials managed to escape safely. Salem was honored before General Washington for his bravery.

Salem served a total of seven years, a length of time achieved by few other soldiers in the Revolution. Salem had entered the Revolution as a slave but finished it as a free man. He died in Framingham, MA, at the age of 66 in 1816. A stone monument was erected in his honor there in 1882.

Not only have African Americans who fought for freedom been largely ignored but their contributions to science have been as well. The southern economy was saved by a former slave named George Washington Carver. He introduced the planting of peanuts as a rotating crop to restore large quantities of nutrients tobacco and cotton crops required. Farmers were elated with their increased yields but soon began to complain because they had too many peanuts and didn't know what to do with them. Carver came up with peanut butter and about 300 other uses for the legume.

Garrett Morgan was another contributor to invention. He invented the gas mask, indispensible during WWI and automatic traffic lights.

Then there was Elijah McCoy. He was a train engineer, but because of his color the only jobs he could get on the railroad were those requiring manual labor such as a fireman, oilman and stoking the engine with coal. McCoy invented an automatic lubricating cup that eliminated the need for manual lubrication. Before this, trains would have to stop periodically to have wheels lubricated otherwise heat buildup would cause them to freeze. The product, named after him, worked so well about 60 companies tried duplicating it. However, none worked as well as the McCoy. So, railroads began demanding “the real McCoy,” a phrase sometimes still heard today.

Ensign Jesse LeRoy Brown, born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, October 13, 1926, enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1946 and became the first African American to be trained by the Navy as an aviator. During the Korean War Brown became the first African-American Naval Aviator to see combat when his squadron operating from the USS Leyte (CV-32).

On December 4, 1950, while on an air support mission near the Chosin Reservoir, Brown's F4U-4 Corsair fighter plane was hit and crashed. He died in his aircraft. Ensign Brown was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism.

These are but a few stories of black Americans who contributed greatly to the forging and defense of America, some found only in dark dusty archives. These records deserve to be dug up and placed in their rightful place alongside other great Americans.


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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Interesting hub. You are so right about the worthy people who have been overlooked and forgotten. Thanks for telling some of their stories.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      You're welcome

    • LAWluvinlife profile image

      Lisa Anne 

      5 years ago from New York City

      Great article - thanks for publishing!

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thank you so much and I appreciate you becoming a follower.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Intersting Hub! I love reading about our real history and the worlds and most exciting thing for me was finding out that the limited and skewed recounting of it I learned in High School was just a taste that is supposed to make us hunger to read more and it worked on me. Look forward to reading more of your Hubs. Voted up and shared!


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