A state highway marker commemorating the first combat operations in the state by African American troops from North Carolina was unveiled Saturday at Elizabeth City’s Waterfront Park. Hundreds of enslaved North Carolinians were set free by Black soldiers during Gen. Edward Wild’s raid in December 1863. Photo: Kip Tabb
The unveiling featured a number of speakers, many reenacting formerly enslaved soldiers of the Union and free people of color of the era, and included stories of those who lived through the struggle for freedom.
Dr. Malcolm Beech, director of the African American Museum and Cultural Center in Kinston, framed the significance to the Black troops who joined the Union Army.
“The North was fighting to save the Union. The South was fighting for state’s rights. These men were fighting for their freedom,” he said.
Lavina Broadnax, reenacting Frances Ellen Watkins, a poet, author and lecturer of the 19th century, read a poem that described the power the possibility of freedom held for enslaved people.
The poem, “Bury Me in a Free Land,” ends with a cry to end slavery:
“I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.”
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