Seven years ago, Asa Gordon’s battle seemed like an uphill one: getting his fellow African Americans to see the Civil War as their own heritage. “They say, ‘I don’t want to hear that, that’s their story,’ ” he told The Washington Post in November 2004. “I say, ‘No, let’s expand it, we’ve got to tell the story.’ ”
That April through November, Gordon, a retired NASA astrodynamicist, and Robert Freis, a Civil War enthusiast who led weekend tours, had brainstormed and traveled to various Civil War sites to do just that. Their goal was to create a walking tour that focused on the role of African Americans in the Civil War. With their locations mapped out and research in hand, it was just a matter of waiting for people to sign up.
Therein lay the problem. A fall 2004 outing fell through because of lack of interest, and so did one the following spring. “You need eight to break even,” Gordon explains today.
The idea was briefly shelved. Freis — who declined to be interviewed for this piece — later retired, and Gordon, as secretary general of the Sons & Daughters of the United States Colored Troops, busied himself with expanding the organization’s state chapters.
Still, the tour was never far from Gordon’s mind.
Since founding S&DUSCT in 2000 on the recommendation of African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation Director Frank Smith Jr., Gordon frequently collaborates with the group that just relaunched the African American Civil War Memorial Museum this past July. The museum, says Gordon, has increased interest in long-forgotten African American soldiers.
“For so long, the dialogue on the Civil War has been dominated by misinformation on African Americans’ role in the Civil War,” says Gordon, now 71. The museum “is educating the African American community that they weren’t bystanders.”
Gordon also keeps getting the same question from the seven S&DUSCT state chapters he helped kick-start: When is that Civil War tour going to happen?
He now has an answer: On May 22-25, 2014, the U.S. Colored Troops “Fight for Freedom” Civil War Weekend Tour will take place, timed to the 150th anniversary of the battle in which U.S. Colored Troops defeated Confederate soldiers at Wilson Wharf/Fort Pocahontas in Charles City, Va.
Gordon will be joined by African American Civil War Memorial Museum curator Hari Jones as a fellow guide. Gordon is hammering out the details, but the tour’s route will start at Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Va., and will include a stop at Fort Pocahontas to watch a reenactment of the May 24, 1864, battle.
Gordon plans on continuing the tour annually. For the first, he hopes he is able to persuade Freis to tag along. “I would love to draw him out of retirement just for this,” Gordon says.
More stories: Civil War 150: Ripples of War
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