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Memorial in Yorktown for Black Heroes

A group of black revolutionary war heroes will finally receive recognition next week after 201 years of obscurity.

Two-hundred-one years ago next week, approximately 40 black soldiers died during a British raid at he Davenport House in Yorktown, the local command post of the Continental Army. Their commanders, colonel Christopher Greene and Major Ebeneezer Flagg, also perished in the early-morning raid on May 13.

The black soldiers were part of the First Rhode Island Regiment, and had been promised their freedom from slavery in return for serving in the army. According to eyewitness accounts, they fought hard and well. But they were no match for the 200 soldiers in the British raiding party.

The soldiers fought to the last man while defending their white commanders, who in later years received a large granite monument at their burial site on the grounds of the First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown.

Of the black soldiers there is no mention, no marker, and no thanks.

But the obscurity will change to recognition a week from this Thursday on the 201st anniversary of the battle. On that day, at 1 p.m., the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and the Afro-American Cultural Foundation, based in White Plains, will jointly place a monument honoring the black soldiers in a spot opposite the memorial to Greene and Flagg.

The new granite monument will stand four feet tall and bear the sculptured faces of two militiamen and a brass plaque telling the story of the regiment and the fateful battle. A cannister filled with the names of contributors to the project will be placed inside the monument during the dedication ceremonies, hosted by Greenburgh Central Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Frelow, the only black school superintendent in Westchester County.

The commemoration of the First Rhode Island Black Regiment, the only regiment of blacks mustered during the Revolutionary War, will involve both elected officials and present-day black fighting men. The foundation also plans to involve school children.

On Wednesday night, before the ceremony, Afro-American Cultural Foundation Director John Harmon and Brigadier General Samuel Philips will host an open discussion at 7 in the Yorktown Town Hall to describe the black man's role in the Revolution and other U. S. wars. Phillips is a veteran of the 369th Infantry Division: the army's all-black division in both World Wars.

The memorial would not have been possible without the help and cooperation of several Yorktown residents and the entire congregation of the Yorktown Presbyterian Church, Harmon said. He specifically thanked Yorktown Supervisor Nancy Elliott, and local historians Arthur Lee, Dan Rochford and Cortlandt Auser.

"Everybody has been so cooperative," said Harmon. "Over the years I think we've learned we can do more together than apart. This has been a real thrill for me. You know how you dream about something? Well, her it's come true."

His organization still has to pay for the monument, Harmon said. Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to the Afro-American Cultural Foundation, P. O. Box 587, White Plains, N.Y. 10602

The project is part of the foundation's continuing efforts to recreate black history in Westchester.

Source: Charles Morrill, North County News, May 5 - May 11, 1982 

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