'Unique' Monument Unveiled in Lancaster Park

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'Unique' Monument Unveiled in Lancaster Park

Lexington Park, MD - 6/18/2012

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By Dick Myers

Idolia Shubrooks and Commander Gary Whitlock unveil the United States Colored Troops Civil War Memorial Monument
Idolia Shubrooks and Commander Gary Whitlock unveil the United States Colored Troops Civil War Memorial Monument

It could very well be unique in the whole United States. State Sen. Roy Dyson (D: 29th) assured the attendees at the unveiling of the Unites States Colored Troops Civil War Memorial Monument at Lancaster Park in Lexington Park on Saturday that the monument is indeed one of a kind.

The monument honors the 700 black soldiers from St. Mary’s County who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War and specifically the three men from St. Mary’s County who received a Medal of Honor during the war. Two of the men, Sgt. William Barnes and Sgt. James Harris, were members of the 38th Colored Troops. The third Medal of Honor recipient, a white man, was U.S. Navy Quarter Master Joseph Hayden.

A large crowd attended the two-hour ceremony that was the culmination of more than 20 years of dedication on the part of Idolia Shubrooks. It is indeed also a monument to persistence, as several speakers noted at the event.

Shubrooks’ mission began with the opening of a box. She wrote in a message in the event’s souvenir program: “Many years ago our mother explained that her father served in the military and there was an old musket in the attic that could still contain ammunition. She admonished us not to go in the attic. My brother and I as kids peeked in the attic as curious kids and saw the old gun, and an old rusty box.”

Years later the gun and box were given to Shubrooks by her mother and stored in a garage. A fire destroyed the gun but not the box. “I decided to look in the old rusty box and to my surprise it revealed a connection to the old musket and military documents. the box contained. The box consisted of my grandfather’s muster papers, pension documents from USCT; marriage license, promissory note, tax bill and deed to property purchased in 1891, where I currently reside.”

That led Shubrooks to noted Baltimore historian Agnes Callum, who has written three books on the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  From that, Shubrooks said, “I decided my mission was to preserve this historical part of history about the USCT’s contributions and educate everyone.” Callum was a guest of honor at the event.

The monument vision was taken on by the United Communities for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) and by James H. Harris Camp #38, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). Funding came from a number of individuals and community groups plus a $250,000 bond bill from the Maryland General Assembly and donation of the land for the monument from the county commissioners.

Shubrooks and Harris Camp #38 Commander Duane Whitlock unveiled the statue that depicts a young member of the USCT carrying a rifle. Behind the statue, designed by sculptor Gary Casteel, are two granite slabs representing the two USCT Medal of Honor recipients and an explanatory panel about their contribution. Of the 6,500 slaves living in St. Mary’s County during the 1800’s, 700 of them went to fight in the Union Army.

Both Rep Steny Hoyer (D: 5th) and Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Greg Jones, representing the governor, noted that the men who served in UISCT and in the wars that followed were serving a country that did not afford them full rights. ”They were risking their lives for second=class citizenship up until the Vietnam War,” Jones said. Hoyer added, “They were not given full rights but they gave a full measure of devotion.”

Hoyer, pointing toward the unveiled statue, said the young man portrayed is a symbol of all who fought in USCT.  “Extraordinarily they did it because they loved this country. This statue is not animated but the idea must be animated in us all every day.”

Hoyer noted that Martin Luther King’s dream was not completely realized. “But he set aside a path to realize those dreams,” he said, adding “Idolia, you have realized your dream.”

Hoyer concluded his remarks by saying, “We have come a long way since Barnes and Harris fought on that field in Virginia (Battle of New Market Heights) but we have a long way to go.”

Sculptor Castell said, “The people of St. Mary’s County can be very proud of what you have here. This is a very unique monument.” Casteel is known for his statue of Gen. James Longstreet at Gettysburg National Military Park and his work has been commissioned by the National Park Service and many state and local governments, corporations and individuals.’

President of UCAC Nathaniel Scroggins acted as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Janice Walthour, who also worked tirelessly on the project, recited a history of the USCT. Walthour, Douglas Frederick, a UCAC board member, David Roberts of SUVCW and of course Shubrooks, laid wreaths at the foot of the statue during the ceremony.

The ceremony also featured the roll call reading of the names of the Sons of St. Mary’s Union members, including the USCT and the 60 whites from St. Mary’s who served in the Union Army.

The monument unveiling was followed by the day-long, 8th Annual Juneteenth Celebration at Freedom Plaza in Lexington Park, sponsored by UCAC.

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