“First of all, if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Frederick Douglass, August 4th, 1857.
Unfortunately, our youth, and many others, are being taught that, until the 1960s, African-Americans were just slaves, and second-class citizens. Well, let’s take a look at African-Americans who came before the 1960s. Let’s look at Wentworth Cheswell. For over 40 years, in the 1700s, up until about 1768, he was the leading historian of the state of New Hampshire. He was elected for over 40 years to 8 different offices, and 90% of the people who voted for him were White. He was revered by all in New England. Many times people would say that the intelligence of Wentworth Cheswell was remarkable.
Let’s take a look at another Black American, Thomas Hercules. He was elected in the 1780s as a town clerk in Pennsylvania. He is featured in the oracle of the day. He moved to Portsmouth, NH on August 13th, 1793. He was elected Representative in an all-White district.
Then there is Robert Smalls, 1839-1915. He fought in the Civil War on the Union side. He became the 1st Black Captain. After the War, he was elected to the U.S. Congress.
Then there is Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi. Lived 1827-1901. He was elected to the 41st U.S. Senate. He left Mississippi to fight in the Civil War on the Union side, and was recognized for raising 3 regiments of soldiers. He returned to Mississippi, ran for the U.S. Senate, and won. By the way, he was also a Minister.
Next, consider Joseph Hayne Rainey, 1832-1887, who was the first Black elected to Congress in South Carolina. He also was the 1st Black elected as Speaker of the House of the U.S. Congress.
Also, there was Peter Salem, a hero of Bunker Hill. If it wasn’t for Peter Salem, Bunker Hill would have been a disaster. He received a dozen commendations from George Washington for his bravery in saving many lives, White and Black; in fact, they built monuments to him. Hopefully, they will not want to take those monuments down, as Salem fought with Whites to make this Country what it is.
Then, there is James Armistead, who became very close friends with the Marquis de Lafayette. He told him he wanted to do more for his Country. Lafayette told him that the intelligence that the Colonists had was poor, and many times, wrong. So, he told Armistead that if he really wanted to help, he could become a spy for the Colonies. Armistead knew this was dangerous, but he agreed to do it. Armistead went to the other side, to the British, and told them that he no longer wanted to be part of the Colonies, because they treated him badly. Fortunately, the British gave him a job as a servant to none other than Benedict Arnold. Armistead, would, on many occasions, hear the strategies that the British were planning, and would get this information back to Lafayette. Later, General Cornwallis, trusting Armistead, asked him to be a spy for the British, and told Armistead to pass along bad information to the Colonists…but Armistead knew what the facts were, and gave the facts to Lafayette, thus becoming the first double-agent in American history. Oh, by the way, in case the Public Schools didn’t tell you, this information helped us win the battle of Yorktown.
I’m giving you just a few examples, of which there are many, of African-Americans and their contributions to this Country…
But now, I would like to tell you about a special individual, one that the Public Schools, I’m sure, have never told you about, along with all the others I have already mentioned…someone I think about quite a bit. His accomplishments are fantastic. His name is Benjamin Banneker 1731-1806. You probably were never taught that people like Benjamin Banneker and other African-Americans were not allowed to be educated. That was the law of the Colonies under King George III. However, Benjamin Banneker defied the King, and taught himself mathematics. While one day walking down a path with a friend of his, Benjamin asked if he could see his friend’s pocket watch. Benjamin removed the back of the watch so he could see how the watch worked, and commented to his friend, “I could make one of these!” He then went home, carved one out of wood, and it only lost one minute a year from that time. Then, a few years later, Thomas Jefferson choose Banneker, along with others, to help lay out Washington D.C. In 1792, Banneker came up with his own almanac. James McHenry (1753-1816) helped with the funding for the almanac. This almanac accurately predicted sunrises and sunsets for the next 10 years. He then sent a copy to his friend, Thomas Jefferson, who in turn, sent it to the Anti-Slavery forces in France, and told them, “See, look! I told you: Blacks are just as smart as Whites.” Benjamin Banneker, along with many other African-Americans, has contributed so much to our Country, and as I have said, I am sure that you never heard about these men in Public Schools or Universities.
On a side note, after the Constitution was signed, and we became a free Nation governing ourselves, there was never a time in Massachusetts when Blacks could not vote. Oh, and speaking of the Constitution, in Maryland, when Baltimore voted to ratify the Constitution, more Blacks than Whites voted to ratify it.
As I have said a couple of times, it is unfortunate that, unless you love history and love to study it, you will never know about these individuals, and many more. This information that I have given you, with more to come, I have researched over the years with the newspapers and documents I have long collected. Also, I have gotten information from books written by authors who actually lived in those times, and knew these individuals.
In closing, I would just like to let you know that fewer than 30% of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. In fact, today I saw on television, that they want to remove all statues of Benjamin Franklin because they say he owned slaves. As somebody who has studied Benjamin Franklin forever, all I can tell you about Franklin is that, in 1784, he started the first anti-slavery movement along with many other Founding Fathers. When King George III heard of this, he made it very clear to Franklin and the rest that they were part of England, which was pro-slavery, and the Colonies were not to do away with slavery. In fact, Samuel Adams, whenever someone asked what they could do for him, he would ask to be given a slave, and upon receipt of the slave, he would immediately give the slave freedom.
Maybe we ought to take a really good look at the fact that Whites and Blacks in the early years of this country got along. Instead of taking down monuments, let’s teach real history, which will go a long way in helping us understand the roots of the United States…..or, should we continue to move on, and find out who was behind the slogan, “Irish need not apply.”, and why Japanese were interred during WWII, etc.? Let’s not give anybody a pass!
DON KUSSER is the host of the Cable TV show “The Constitution Then and Now,” and is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution