Sunday, September 27, 2009


African American Sailors in the Civil War

They weren’t the typical Civil War soldiers. They weren’t white. In fact, they weren’t soldiers at all. They were sailors, seamen of the United States Navy. This is the story of seven native born east-central Georgians who served in the almighty Federal Navy while it maintained its stranglehold over shipping lanes along the
southeastern coasts during the Civil War.

The United States Army developed a policy of seizing slaves from Southern plantation owners and employing them as laborers. Up and down the South Atlantic Coast former slaves were freed. They flocked into camps along coastal islands. It became readily apparent that these people could provide both army and navy commanders with valuable information. These former slaves provided the Union Navy with invaluable intelligence information, including the location of Confederate fortifications, navigation information along inland waterways, and foraging of supplies and food.

Originally the Negro sailors were considered mere laborers and were paid a minuscule salary. Eventually the men were treated for pay purposes as equal to the whites and were allowed to be promoted for outstanding performance of their duties. Some sailors rose to the rank of pilot. These river pilots provided vital services to the Federal navy.

While the true number of black soldiers on both sides of the conflict will never be known, most historians believe that at least fifty thousand or more Southern blacks served in the Confederate Army. Many were used in support roles, but company commanders needing bodies to fill in the lines were not opposed to filling their ranks with blacks, in complete deference to the official policy of the Confederate government. Among the most famous black Confederate soldiers was Private Bill Yopp of the 14th Georgia Infantry. A Laurens Countian by birth, Yopp, who surrendered with his company at Appomattox, is the only African-American Confederate soldier buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.

Records of black Confederate casualties are virtually non-existent, though black Union casualties have been estimated to have been nearly forty thousand.

It has been estimated that some eighteen thousand former slaves served in the United States Navy during the Civil War. Four hundred seventeen of them are known to have been born in Georgia. A good portion of native Georgians serving in the Union Navy gave the place of their birth as Georgia, with no indication of the county of their birth. At least three Laurens Countians are known to have served in the Union Army during the war. Unfortunately, further efforts to trace the lives of these three men after the war were futile. Neither of the three men appear in any Federal censuses after the war.

Myers Blackshear, the oldest of three native Laurens Countians to serve in the Union Navy, was born in 1826. A five-foot five-inch tall farmer, Blackshear enlisted for a three-year term on December 31, 1863. Blackshear was assigned as a 3rd Class Boy aboard the U.S.S. Restless. On April 1, 1864, Blackshear was reassigned to the U.S.S. San Jacinto.

The San Jacinto, named for the climatic battle of the War for Texas Independence, was the Navy’s second screw frigate. The ship participated in the Virginia Peninsula campaign of 1862. In the last year of the war, the San Jacinto was assigned to blockade duty along the Southeastern and Gulf coasts. The ship was lost on New Year’s Day in 1865, when she sunk on a reef near Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Francis Hughes, a barber by trade, was born in Laurens County in 1827.  Hughes enlisted for one year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1863. He was assigned as a landsman aboard the U.S.S. State of Georgia. A landsman in 19th Century language was a sailor on his first voyage or one who is inexperienced in sailing. The USS State of Georgia was a side wheel stern steamship and was often in dry dock for repairs. The ship saw limited action in the first half of 1864 during Hughes’ tenure on the ship.

George Hozendorf, born in 1836, listed himself as unemployed when he enlisted in the United States Navy at Fernandina Island, Florida on March 31, 1864. This five-foot three-inch tall native of Laurens County was assigned as a landsman aboard the U.S.S. Para. The Para, a 190-ton mortar schooner, saw action throughout the war, primarily off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.  In the summer of 1864, the Para participated in a mission up the Stono River in South Carolina.

Joseph Crawford, a forty-six-year-old Emanuel County laborer, enlisted in the navy for the duration of the war at St. George’s Sound on July 27, 1863. He served as a First Class Boy aboard the USS Somerset until the summer of 1865. Crawford served aboard the Somerset with his younger brother Cato Crawford. The younger Crawford enlisted for the war on July 15, 1863 at St. George’s Sound. The Somerset, a wooden-hulled side-wheel ferry boat was used primarily to block Southern blockade runners. On March 30, 1865, the ship destroyed the salt works on St. Joseph’s Bayou.

Andrew Brown, a five-foot eleven inch Twiggs County native, was born in 1825. He enlisted “for the cruise” at Key West, Florida on March 4, 1863. He served from April 1, 1863 to September 1863 aboard the San  acinto. In that month he transferred to the USS James L. Davis until December. Brown returned to San Jacinto for few days before returning back to the James L. Davis once again. His last assignment was aboard the San Jacinto.

Sampson Freeman, the third man of the group to serve aboard the USS Somerset, was born in Wilkinson County, Georgia in 1832. He enlisted for the duration of the war on July 1, 1863. He was a laborer by profession and served aboard the Somerset until June 1865.

Records of the participation of the black soldiers and sailors in both armies are scant. As a result of the popularity of the movie “Glory,” more attention has been drawn to the former slaves and free blacks who served in the Union Army.

However, much less attention has been paid to those who were slaves and fought in defense of their homeland despite its dogged determination to maintain the abomination of slavery. Many historians, including the highly respected Ed Bearrs of the National Park Service, believe their was a coverup to obscure the service records of those slaves who served the Confederacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Born to Run

Mel Lattany could run. He could run faster than all but a few dozen people in the history of the World. As the athletes of the United States are competing in Athens, Greece in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, this former Dublin Junior High School teacher made his mark on the tracks of another Athens, Athens, Georgia, a quarter of a century ago. Considered by one panel of authorities as the 6th greatest sprinter of all time, Mel Lattany was among those Olympians who were denied their chance to capture the gold medal by the preposterous politics of the Cold War.

Born Melvin Lattany on August 10, 1959 in Brunswick, Ga., Mel made a bold promise to his family when he was only eight years old. He sat at the dinner table and told his doubting siblings that “I am going to be the first Lattany to put our name in the papers nationwide.” Mel, an all state track and football star at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, was given a track scholarship to the University of Georgia, where he began his career in the spring of 1978. A sportswriter predicted that this swift freshman would become an Olympian. Mel lived up to his reputation when he set a Junior World Record at the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 20, 1979. His time of 10.09 seconds still stands as seventh best ever for a man under the age of twenty
and is only 0.04 seconds shy of the current World record. As a sophomore at Georgia, Lattany’s sprint of 20.28 in the 200m, earned him the ranking as the 6th best sprinter in the World.

Mel continued to excel in track events around the country. He set the Southeastern Conference record for a 60-yard dash with a mark of 6.14 seconds. His third place finish at the 1980 Olympic trials in the 100m led to his selection to a spot in the 100m event and 4x100m relay team, along with Carl Lewis, Stanley Floyd and Harvey Glance, Mel’s idol. In a university known more for its football prowess, Mel became only the 5th Bulldog track star to earn a berth on the Olympic team. Just after his selection to the team, President Jimmy Carter, in a protest of Soviet imperialism, ordered that the United States would stage a boycott of the quadrennial games. Lattany, like most other athletes, was disappointed and bewildered by the decision. “It’s really a shame about the boycott,” said Mel. Not seeing the action as a solution to the World’s problems, Lattany told reporters, “The Olympics should not be political at all. This has destroyed many of the goals and ambitions of a lot of athletes.” Lead by Carl Lewis and three SEC sprinters, the relay team was the favorite to win the gold medal in 1980.

Despite the initiation of the boycott, Mel continued to run in events throughout the country and Europe. He won the Liberty Bell Classic in the 100m dash. In a tour of Europe that summer, Mel enjoyed a gratifying victory over Alan Wells of the United Kingdom, the gold medal winner of that year’s Olympics. The 1981 season saw Mel, rated only behind Carl Lewis at the World’s top sprinter, win the World Cup in 200m dash with a mark of 20.21 seconds, only a 1/100 of a second behind the best time of the year. In the 100m event, Mel ran one of his best times ever. His time of 10.04 was 4/100 of a second behind Carl Lewis’s season best time of 10 seconds flat. Earlier that season, the 10.04 time was good enough to time the amateur record set in the 1968 Olympics. Wherever Mel ran, there was always Carl Lewis to spoil his chances of finishing first. In the 1981 NCAA championships, Mel broke out to an early lead in the 100m, only to be overtaken by Lewis, who finished in 9.99 seconds, only a slim 0.07 seconds ahead of Lattany. Mel’s career best in the 60-yard dash of 6.10 seconds was not good enough to beat a 6.04 world record set by Stanley Floyd.

In the 1981 Drake Relays, Mel, a nine time collegiate All-American, capped off his collegiate career with his 4th consecutive win in the 100-meter race, a feat unprecedented in the history of the prestigious event. For his outstanding performance at the relays, Mel was awarded the distinguished Maury White Award. Lattany placed first in the 100m event, finishing more than a quarter of a second ahead of teammate Herschel Walker. In addition to his sprint victories, Mel anchored the 400m and 800m champion relay teams.

In the summer of 1981, Mel attempted to live out his childhood dream of playing college football for the Bulldogs. The Bulldog coaching staff salivated at the prospect of having the second fastest man in the World running post patterns on the turf of Sanford Stadium in their drive to win a second consecutive national championship. Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. The following year Mel continued to run and train in hopes of garnering a spot to perform at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. On July 30, 1983, Lattany, ranked 3rd in the World, set a world record in the rarely run 300m dash at Gateshead with a time of 32.15 seconds.

At the age of 24, Mel Lattany, a 1983 education graduate of UGA, was peaking in his attempt to win a Gold Medal. In the 100-meter event at the 1984 Spec Towns Meet in Athens, the sprinter recorded a time of 9.96, the fastest time that year and the fastest ever at such a low altitude. His mark was only 0.01 seconds short of Jim Lines’ world record. Think about how short a hundredth of a second  is. Lattany was awarded a spot as an alternate on the 4x100 relay team, which won the Gold Medal in Los Angeles in 1984. For his participation on the team, Mel was also awarded a Gold Medal, a bittersweet prize after a muscle tear and a subsequent injury led to his inability to compete with the world’s fastest sprinters and forced him to watch his teammates from the sidelines.

After only one win at the Jesse Owen’s Classic at Columbus, Ohio in May 1985, Mel once again turned his sights on football. He was given a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys in the summer of 1985. Although he could outrun the football and possessed a dogged determination to succeed, Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. A reversal of the determination of amateur status in the United States led to his reinstatement to compete in amateur events.

In 1986, Lattany turned down an offer to come to Dublin to teach Industrial Arts at Dublin Junior High School. He chose to remain in Athens where he could train in hopes of making the 1988 Olympic team. When a 1987 car accident spoiled his chances to make the team, Mel decided to take up the offer in 1989. Mel preferred the slower pace of life in Dublin. He continued to train, but less intensely than before. He had his goals, but he realized that he was rapidly approaching an age when victories would be out of reach. Mel enjoyed teaching and coached the members of the high school track team. He hoped to publish a book to guide young athletes through their collegiate and professional careers.

Mel Lattany’s track career came to end when his legs could no longer carry him as fast as his heart wanted them to. For as long as he lives, Mel Lattany can claim that at one time, he was the fastest human being on the face of the Earth. Only 43 men have run a faster forty-yard dash and one hundred-yard dash. In his prime, Mel could sprint the length of a football field faster than most of us could run across a highway.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Bishop Imagene Stewart
@ The History Makers

Compassionate Warrior

Imagene Stewart has many battles to fight. She comes armed with a life long cache of compassion. Her morale is high. Surrounded by the mighty fortress of God, she fights on against the mortal enemies of time and apathy. Where she feels pain, she heals it. Where she senses loneliness, she comforts it. Where she sees an American flag, she salutes it.

Born Imagene Bigham in Dublin, Georgia on September 23, 1942, she learned the foundation of her life from her parents, Rev. J.C. Bigham and Mattie Watkins Bigham, who married in Laurens County, Georgia on November 28, 1941. Imagene married Lucius Johnson on August 11, 1958. After her marriage to Lucius "L.C." Johnson ended, she lived in public housing in H.T. Jones Village with her mother, and her two sons, Michael Tyrone Johnson and Jeffrey Lorenzo Johnson. She worked a domestic servant just like her mother. Imagene learned all too well of the injustices of life in the country in the fifties and early sixties. She participated in many civil rights marches in Dublin with the Bates sisters.

It was in 1963 when she began to prepare for the battles to come. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a member of the Georgia delegation on the March on Washington. She stayed in Washington and was an active member of the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Recently, she told a reporter for The Pentagram, " I came here to fight racial injustice. I thought that white people were against me, but I realized that there were blacks against me too."

As more and more veterans of the Vietnam War came home, she realized that many of them had no home to come home to. In 1972, she opened a shelter for homeless veterans. " It seemed like some people forgot the Vietnam veterans," said Rev. Stewart, an ordained Baptist minister. She continued, " Those people gave us the freedoms we enjoy everyday. They are the life-line of this country."

Stewart, a harsh critic of the Veterans Administration for its seemingly uncaring treatment of homeless and helpless veterans and their families, refused to accept donations from the federal government. "Veterans are discarded by the military. The country does nothing for its homeless veterans," she said. She accused many other similar shelter operators of bilking the government of funds without really caring for the veterans. Following the success of her six-family center on P Street in Washington, D.C., she opened a ten-family shelter in the Suitland section of the city.
Today in her twenty room House of Imagene, she provides bunk beds for twenty five people.

There are occasions when veterans come in with the grandchildren, who have been left in their custody by neglective parents. Rev. Stewart welcomes them all with open arms. For more than three decades, she served meals on Thanksgiving Day to the homeless. Thanksgiving Day 2003, when her shelter served three thousand meals, was the last time her shelter serve the homeless on Thanksgiving. Her health and her age are beginning to fail her. Stewart said, " I’ve gotten too old and my health is deteriorating. I can’t do what I used to do. I just feel I’ve been shoe-stringed for all the years and got no support. I’m at the point where I need help. I’ve enjoyed it, and I don’t think God would be pleased with me to walk away, even after 32 years."

Imagene married Albert Stewart, a veteran of the Korean War. Both of her sons served in the military. Imagene told the reporter from the Pentagram, " I always wanted to be a soldier, but in those days the military rarely accepted teenage mothers." She keeps close to the military as much as she can. She visits the wounded and maimed soldiers who are being sent from Iraq to Walter Reed Hospital. "They are babies, 18- and 19-year-olds without arms and legs. What are they going to do when they try to pick up their lives?" she wonders. She has served as Chaplain of the Tuskegee Airman Civil Air Patrol at Andrews Air Force Base.

Stewart served as the National Vice President of the Eastern Division of the American Legion Auxiliary from 2000 to 2001. She served as president of her local legion auxiliary as well as on the executive board of D.C. Veterans & Auxiliaries Council Veterans Against Drugs. She has been a member of the U.S. Air Force Mother’s Club, American War Mothers and Amvets Auxiliary. In addressing the convention of the American Legion in 2001, she commented on the suggestion that blacks pledge allegiance to Africa and not the American flag, she brought forth a thunderous standing ovation when she told the gathering of veterans, "Well, honey, I ain’t never been to Africa. . . I was born in the United States of America, very proudly." She has been named by the National President of the Legion Auxiliary as "An Angel in Action" for her decades of showing mercy to homeless veterans.

Stewart was consecrated presiding Bishop of the African American Women's Clergy Association during a Women's History Month celebration March 2, 1996 at the Chapel of Hope, Shilo Baptist Church. She is a pastor of the Greater Pearly Gate Full Gospel Baptist Church, Bishop Stewart was the first African-American minister elected National Chaplain to the American Legion Auxiliary.

Bishop Stewart has been awarded numerous accolades for her community service. In 1991, she was commended by President Bush for efforts in meeting the needs of homeless veterans. The next year, she was awarded the prestigious " Living the Dream Award" for her service to battered women. Oh yes, the House of Imagene takes in victims of domestic violence in the D.C. Area. Are you surprised? In 2000, she was awarded a Leadership Award by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. She has been commended by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has provided his own support of homeless veterans in Washington. On Feb. 8, 2004, she was awarded a community service award by Fort Myer, which Bishop Stewart calls a "thankless job, but somebody has to do it." In her spare time, Bishop Stewart hosts a Sunday morning radio talk show on WOL 1450 AM in Washington, D.C., where she is known to her listeners as "The Georgia Peach."

For decades, Bishop Stewart has been a leading advocate for a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration. Despite the fact that most states have asked the Congress to adopt such an amendment, the Congress has failed to act. She served on the board of the Citizens Flag Alliance and urged her listeners to speak out in favor of the amendment to protect the flag.

While Imagene has long been an advocate for the rights of her people, she doesn’t consider herself an African-American. "Some people tell me my allegiance should be to Africa," she told the Pentagram reporter. "I’m from the USA. I’m an American," she proudly proclaimed. She is often criticized for her support of President George W. Bush, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t an advocate for social rights. She always has been there to defend and promote the rights of all persons. She has adopted a policy of "love one, love all." She supports President Bush for his strong stance in protecting the freedoms we enjoy following the Attack of America.
Today, Bishop Stewart is fighting the biggest battle of her life. It is a personal one, the battle against ovarian cancer. Tonight when you go to bed, say a prayer for this "Compassionate Warrior." Pray for her health and those she fights for. If you would like to help, write Bishop Stewart at 214 P Street Washington, D.C. 20001.