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Department of History to host symposium on African-Americans and the Civil War on Oct. 27-28

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Upon issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, more than three million slaves in Confederate areas were recognized as free by the Union. The Union army wasted little time recruiting those newly freed men into service, with some 1,800 Clarksville residents answering the call, joining the Union army as members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in ceremonies on the Clarksville public square.

An important strategic location for both armies, Clarksville and its people played a major role in the Civil War and the fight for freedom. That history — and the history of those who died for the cause — will be explored on Oct. 27-28 as the Austin Peay State University Department of History and Philosophy and Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center, in association with the Montgomery County Historical Society, Montgomery County Archives and the Clarksville-Montgomery County Arts & Heritage Development Council, host “Liberation and Reconstruction: Clarksville and Montgomery County, 1860-1880.”

Dr. Kelly Jones, assistant professor of history at Austin Peay, said the event will bring together both university and community scholars, to discuss Clarksville’s rich past, while exploring what needs to be done as caretakers of that history.

“We’re really hoping for a true ‘town and gown’ type of event,” Jones said. “It’s exciting to bring together students, professors, both current and emerita, local historical societies and archivists for one event.”

On Friday, Oct. 27 at noon, Col. (Ret.) Mike Taliento from the Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society (MOCHIPS) will visit the Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center to lead a discussion about the group’s caretaking efforts and tell the stories of some of the African-American Civil War veterans buried at Mt. Olive. MOCHIPS has been able to locate and identify nearly 25 USCT veterans buried at the site, with radar imaging showing numerous unidentified and unmarked burials across the 7.2 acres of wooded land.

 “The soldiers buried (at Mt. Olive Cemetery) are the bravest of the brave to literally fight for their freedom, not knowing if the Confederacy would prevail or not,” Jones said. “We should all think long and hard about that sacrifice and risk.”

The event continues on Sunday, Oct. 28 at the William O. Beach Civic Hall with a symposium covering a number of topics, including the development of African-American communities in Clarksville, politics following the war and the role of churches and women during that era.

“The public memory of the Civil War is often focused too narrowly on the white Confederate part of the story,” Jones said. “This symposium is exciting because it holds a special focus on the experience of African Americans in this area. Black southerners in Clarksville played an important role in supporting the Union, which prevailed fairly early here, and to understand the transition of African Americans from slavery to freedom in Clarksville is to better understand our community's heritage as a whole.”

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Dr. Kelly Jones at jonesk@apsu.edu. To find out more about the Mt. Olive Historical Preservation Society, visit them online at https://mtolivechps.weebly.com.