Looking for; Looking Like, Men

Looking for; Looking Like, Men


~By David A. Anderson

In my Cincinnati coming up days, many, many Civil War veterans were still around. I must have known several, but nobody much talked about that service; neither schoolhouse nor pulpit addressed the subject of men of color performing as Union soldiers. After six years of U.S. Air Force service, and relocation to Rochester, I begin to absorb an itty-bitty piece of how much the nation owes the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Frederick Douglass, the man, the icon, relentlessly insisted that President Lincoln change the “this is a white man’s war” policy that prevented employment of black men as Union soldiers. January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation, and the policy changed . . . with strings attached. Those strings, angered, not only Hanif Abdul-Wahid’s great-grandfather, George Brown, but also my great-great grandfather, and the great-great-great grandfathers, uncles cousins and all them that we are descended from. But, check this: they “looked like men; they looked like men of war.” The tyook care of the business of saving a nation.

I have in my possession The Long Road to Freedom: an Anthology of Black Music. The 80 songs collection is brilliantly assembled by Harry Belafonte; various artists, and unheralded groups take one through the strife and turmoil; the grieving and the hallelujah shouts, from Africa to African American. A certain five and a half minutes of this six CD collection requires absolute attention: “We Look Like Men of War,” sinuously embraces my heart and head in a haunting, moving declarative by men determined to be men. Underpaid, insulted, fighting the rebel army, and, the prejudice of white officers that openly regarded them as—well, you know—“niggers,” our forebears declared, “We call for stout-hearted men, who are no afraid to die.”

Applying such standards against that determination, may seem unfair. The saving grace is that it helps me hold my peace long enough to meet up with some brothers that put me in the mind of George Brown, Adam Price (Captain Charles Price’s granddaddy). Now, Price and Brown, and my Great-Gran’ Daddy Sam Bibb, each served in a different regiment, but they were men; also, ‘cause I study them so hard, I think I see some brothers on the trail today, keeping the long road to freedom open.

Cannot mention but one a those brothers today, and I know the women folks that love the other brothers want to to slap me upside the head, but it just gotta be that way. You see, Bruce Finch, teaches children enrolled in his second grade class at Early Childhood School Number 52. He has always opened the door to me, and, more importantly, parents of children enrolled in his class. A Couple of years ago he picked up on my suggestion that we engage his pupils in learning how “Lift Every Voice and Sing” came about. (Yes, you known the poem/song I am talking about, and you better know that there ain’t no “minority” up in there.) Anyhow, the kids got into it, and wouldn’t you know, Brother Finch was persuaded to stand in for the brilliant James Weldon Johnson, who penned the poem from which the anthem rose.

In the play we produced was a young sister, who at that time was earning her degree at University of Rochester. Now check this: back in the day, she had also been a student in Brother Finch’s class. Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, one more time: with the support of School 52 Principal, Roshan Bradley, Brother Finch, young sister Megan brought their play to Nazareth College. Yes, they performed in the beautiful Linehan Chapel, but it seemed to me , especially when Stanton School Principal/poet, James Weldon Johnson spoke, we were at the Stanton School, the school Johnson and his brother attended back in the day.