Crossing the divide: Black and Blue Civil War history program Saturday

Published 12:39 pm Monday, October 9, 2017

NATCHEZ — The annual Black & Blue Civil War Living History Program aims to tell the stories that oft go untold in the traditional literature.

The program’s 10th edition starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at Historic Jefferson College, and organizer Ser Seshsh Ab Heter- C.M. Boxley is ready to unload a heaping amount of history for those who visit.

“Over these 10 years or so … we’ve come to know a great number of these, what I call, freedom fighters from the Union Army,” Boxley said. “(We’ve come to) find out who they were.”

Email newsletter signup

The event will feature reenactments portraying the roles of African Americans who contributed to the Union army’s victory over the Confederacy.

Boxley said this year, the program will focus mainly on the naval facet of the Civil War.

“That’s one group that even the promoters of Ken Burns and all those great documentaries that have played, that exist would have marginalized … or left out,” Boxley said.

The Black & Blue begins with a teach-in presentation of “Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy,” of the Mississippi Squadron, given by 32-year U.S. Army veteran Parker Hills of Clinton.

Those who consider themselves battleship buffs might enjoy this portion of the event.

“You’ll be able to see an animated image of the boats,” Boxley said. “You’ll be able to see them moving. You’ll be able to hear them firing. You’ll be able to see the smoke from them.”

Boxley said the eyes and ears of the Mississippi Squadron ships were what he called “self-emancipated” former slaves, who ran away from enslavement, understanding that their passage to freedom would come through the Union.

Beginning at 1 p.m., the living history role-players will begin their performances.

One of the actors is NAPAC Director and Black & Blue organizer Darrell White, who will play Union Naval member Wilson Brown.

White said Brown, a former slave, one day dove into the Mississippi River and swim to his freedom.

“He dove into the river, and swam his way to one of those (Union) vessels, fighting the currents and making it to one of the boats,” White said. “It was immediately decided that anyone who was crazy enough, yet determined enough to fight the currents would probably be a good sailor. So they pulled him up on board.”

White said Brown eventually became a key member of the USS Hartford, the flagship of Admiral David Farragut.

Boxley will play the role of the “old man” who showed General Ulysses S. Grant where to bring his troops to cross the Mississippi River to attack Confederate soldiers in Vicksburg. Boxley said his role is an example of the “enhancements” of the performance to demonstrate some of the less-discussed roles in Civil War history.

“An old enslaved person; an old man,” Boxley said. “That’s all they say about him in the history books — ‘an old man.’ So what I do is I bring the old man alive.”

Other role players in the reenactments include Natchez Heritage Tours’ Jeremy Houston, playing Sixth Heavy artilleryman William Rochester, Jackson policewoman Bertha Lewis, playing  Ann Stokes, who Boxley said was the first official Union Navy female nurse, and Magnolia Mayor Anthony Witherspoon playing the role of a sailor.

White said the goal of this event is both to tell stories that have gone largely unheard and to hopefully encourage unity.

“What we’re trying to do is not only educate the children and next generation of our community, but to let everyone know that we’re in this thing together, and we can accomplish far more by working together than by continuing to facilitate the racial divides,” White said.

“That is the basis of what we do each year — now in our tenth year of doing the Black and Blue Living History Program — to call attention to the contributions that have been made that have been, unfortunately, overlooked,” White said.

The Black & Blue Civil War Living History Program is open to the public free of charge.