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Whether slaves or free men, African Americans were generally excluded from military service until Emancipation. Many Americans know the story of the United States Colored Troops, who broke racial barriers in Civil War combat, and of the “buffalo soldiers,” who served in the West after that conflict, but African Americans also served in segregated militia units in twenty-three states. This book tells the story of that experience in Kansas.
Roger Cunningham examines a lost history to show that, in addition to black regulars, hundreds of other black militiamen and volunteers from the Sunflower State provided military service from the Civil War until the dawn of the twentieth century. He tells how African Americans initially filled segregated companies hurriedly organized to defend the state from the threat of Confederate invasion, with some units ordered into battle around Kansas City. Then after the state constitution was amended to admit blacks into the Kansas National Guard, but its generals still refused to integrate, blacks served in reserve militia and independent companies and in all-black regiments that were raised for the Spanish-American and Philippine wars.
Cunningham has researched service records, African American newspapers, and official correspondence to give voice to these citizen-soldiers. He shares stories of real people like William D. Matthews, a captain in the First Kansas Colored Infantry who was refused a commission when his regiment was mustered into the Union army; Charles Grinsted, who commanded the first black militia company after the Civil War; and other unsung heroes.
More than a military history, Cunningham’s account records the quest of black men, many of them former slaves, for inclusion in American society. Many came from the bottom of the socioeconomic order and found that as militiamen they could gain respect within their communities. And by marching in public ceremonies and organizing fund-raising activities to compensate for lack of financial support from the state, they also strengthened the ties that bound African American communities together.
The Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas, 1864–1901 broadens the story of these volunteers beyond the buffalo soldiers, telling how they served their state and country in both peace and war. It opens a new chapter in history both for the state and for African Americans throughout the United States.