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Local cemeteries keep stories of the U.S. Colored Troops alive | Black History Keystones

More than 100 African-American Civil War soldiers are buried at Lincoln Cemeteries in Gettysburg and Penbrook.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Tucked into the heart of Gettysburg, the graves at Lincoln Cemetery are a reminder of service, sacrifice, and bravery.

Many of them mark the lives of men who historians say made the difference in the Civil War.

“The war was basically at a standstill until they started drafting the Black troops in 1863," said Calobe Jackson Jr., a historian for American Legion Post 733 in Harrisburg. “They were able to give the North an abundance of troops and they overcame the South.”

The U.S. Colored Troops were designated U.S. Army regiments of African-American soldiers, who fought for reunification, and freedom from slavery.

But when they passed, none of that mattered.

“All of our U.S. Colored Troops who went off and fought the war, they wanted a proper burial for them," explained Jean Green, president of the Lincoln Cemetery Project Association in Gettysburg. "At that time, Blacks could not be buried in a white cemetery”

The burial ground, now known as Lincoln Cemetery, was purchased by Black leaders in 1867, becoming the final resting spot for 30 men.

“We’re all created equal but for you to go off and fight for your country...and you’re still denied burial," said Green. “I want people to know these folks in these graves here, so I tell their stories.”

These stories span the lengths of south-central Pennsylvania, from Lincoln Cemetery in Gettysburg to Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook, near Harrisburg.

“It’s right here in our backyard," said Jackson Jr. "A lot of people don’t know this cemetery exists.”

One hundred more U.S. Colored Troops members rest off the beaten path, where Civil War roots run just as deep.

“Harrisburg is very close to Gettysburg, and one of the stories that’s not known is as the troops approached Harrisburg, that was actually the target, Lee’s target," said Jackson Jr.

The two gravesites help to tell those lesser-known stories, which are prominent parts of central Pennsylvania’s Black history.

"This is the last, and the only concrete evidence we have that there was actually a Black community," explained Green. "So this cemetery is very, very important to the Black history of this town.”

Folks like Green and Jackson Jr. strive to keep the soldiers’ stories alive, something they call a privilege and an honor.

“I love the Black community and I love sharing and telling the stories of the Black community as it was handed down to us from generations ago," said Green.

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