The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Monday, February 27, 2012

Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War: Plainfield Connections

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which makes this volume especially timely. As one who teaches African American literature of the 19th and 20 century, I am excited to have another text about our too often overlooked history to add to my library. This past Sunday, the Historical Society of Plainfield (housed in the Drake House Museum in Plainfield's 4th Ward at 602 West Front Street) hosted a Black History Month exhibition and book signing reception featuring historian Ethel M. Washington, author of the new book, Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War. ($19.99, published by The History Press, 2011).  

The book has several comprehensive appendices which list the names, birth/death dates, and military records of those who served in the war.  In her talk, Ethel spoke of the Plainfielders who served, many of whom are buried in the Baptist/Methodist Evergreen Cemetery (below), located on Plainfield Avenue between West 5th and 6th Streets.
Ethel, a longtime Plainfield resident, is the History Programs Coordinator for the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs--her previous book, Union County Black Americans (Arcadia, 2004), highlights the contributions of African Americans to our county's history and heritage since its founding in the mid-19th century. I served with Ethel as a commissioner on the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, and remain awed by her wide-ranging knowledge of African American history and culture.  Her discussion of how she meticulously combed through numerous archives on her seven-year research journey, along the surprises she found along the way, was fascinating.

Here's a brief biography of Ethel as well--I am sure you will be impressed by the accomplishments of THIS brilliant Union County Black American and Plainfield resident!

"Ethel M. Washington is the history programs coordinator at the Union County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs. Ms. Washington established the African American Design Archive at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, where she worked prior to assuming her current position. She is a founding board member and vice chair of the New Jersey Black Cultural & Heritage Foundation, Inc. She is a contributor to the Encyclopedia New Jersey, Union County 150th Anniversary Magazine and authored Union County Black Americans and the award-winning African American Design Archive brochure. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including induction into the Linden Historical Society's Hall of Fame, Union County Women of Excellence Award, Luminous Award and Raritan Valley Chapter of Links, Inc. She is a graduate of Central State University of Ohio and holds two master's degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University. She pursued doctoral studies at Rutgers University where she also earned a certificate in Museum Studies." 

Reprinted below is a description of Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War from The History Press

"In Union County, New Jersey, many soldiers and sailors of African ancestry answered President Lincoln's call for troops during the Civil War, and enlisted in regiments organized in Union County, the United States Colored Troops (USCT), out-of-state-regiments and the United States Navy and Marine Corps. They fought not only for country, but also for their comrades in chains in the south and for the promise of equality that they had for so long been denied. Through their stories, never before seen photographs, documents and service records, local historian Ethel M. Washington tells a largely overlooked but riveting history of patriotic Black servicemen in the antebellum north, who defended the nation's ideals on the battlefield, even as they faced discrimination in the ranks and back home."

I hope you all will purchase the book--it is a "must-have" for anyone interested in Plainfield history, in New Jersey's history, and especially in the contributions made by African American New Jerseyans whose sacrifices remain largely unsung.

All best,


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