KEEPING HISTORY ALIVE—John Ford watches the 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Drum & Fife Youth Reenactment Group during a Feb. 16 Black History Month presentation that included several of his collected artifacts at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
In the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it was appropriate that the city of Pittsburgh welcomed an historic display to the City County building foyer depicting the contributions of African-Americans to the armed forces during the civil war.
The month-long “A Call To Freedom” exhibit focuses primarily on the US Colored Troops which distinguished themselves in several engagements, most notably Fort Wagner and the Battle of Nashville.
“It is an inspiring collection of photographs and memorabilia honoring individuals who have left a lasting legacy here in western Pennsylvania as well as throughout the world,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
The exhibit, comprised of items from the private collection of retired banking and corporate executive John Ford, was put together by Citiparks and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum opened with a performance by the museum’s 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Drum & Fife Youth Reenactment Group.
Duane Ashley, Ravenstahl’s director of operations, said he was impressed by the display.
“Most folks have an image of African-Americans at that time in servitude. But clearly, as we see depicted here, that was not the case,” he said. “These individuals sacrificed their lives for service to our founding fathers so that the words ‘all men are created equal’ were brought to life.”
Ford, who has more than 10,000 items in his collection, also displayed several during a one-day presentation at Soldiers and Sailors that explored the Civil War and its aftermath.
He noted that though Blacks couldn’t serve in the armed forces until 1863, nearly 190,000 did so between then and the end of the war two years later.
“And it still took another 100 years for corporate Pittsburgh to hire an African-American executive. That man was me, when I went to work for Harbison-Walker Refractories,” Ford said. “My search for true African-American history led me to begin purchasing documents to the extent that at times the light bill had to wait, the gas bill had to wait. Some of those are on the wall here. I hope to pave the way for youngsters coming up and it’s because of you that I carry on.”
The city county building display remains up through Feb. 28.