California African American Museum presents: ‘African American Military Portraits from the American Civil War’

A private in the Union army sits with his family

Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln are a few of the major figures people think of when it comes to the Civil War. But you won’t find any of these people featured in the California African American Museum’s new exhibit.

Instead, “African American Military Portraits from the American Civil War” presents photographs of black soldiers and sailors — slaves as well as free men who volunteered to fight — and comes in time to help mark the 150th anniversary of the war.

The Liljenguist family donated the photographs to the Library of Congress under the condition they be available to the public for free use. After hearing of the donation, Edward Garcia, the museum’s exhibit department supervisor, decided to create a show and selected images he felt were most compelling.

Many people know about African Americans fighting in the Civil War from Glory, the film featuring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, about an all-black infantry getting the chance to fight at the front lines of the war.

Still, Garcia feels that “when most people think of the Civil War they just think of slaves and they don’t realize a lot of these guys were volunteers from the north…I wanted to show the pictures of the guys who have been completely forgotten.”

Many of the African-American volunteers were successful business owners. One of the photographs features John N. Sharper, who worked as a printer before joining the military in Rhode Island. Being a printer at the time was a prestigious job that required a lot of education, but Sharper joined the army anyway…

Read more: Brittany Taylor, LA Weekly


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