Monday, November 11, 2013

From Africa to America "Africans & African American Men and Women Fought In Battle

Henry Harrell-World War I-1914-1918
As I went about my daily tasks today my mind drifted,  back to the beginning of the first Africans that were kidnapped off the continent of Africa West Coast and the inland. Many of them went into battle to protect their families, wives, and children. Hundreds of thousands died in that battle for freedom. They fought their enemies who had come to change their lives forever by forcing them into slavery in a new world unknown to them.

They were warriors and military men in their own country. One of the chiefs who organized an armed rebellion against British colonial authority was Zulu Chief Bambatha. He was not happy with the loss of land and his people suffered and the poll tax of one pound that they were forced to pay. His demand was that his people's land be returned and the poll tax lifted. The armed rebellion was finally crushed after lasting a year. Chief Bambatha together with his 3000 followers was killed.

Before the Civil War in 1861, there were an estimated almost four million slaves in the United States. Approximately 180,000 African-Americans comprising of 163 units served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more African-Americans served in the  Navy. Both slaves and free African-American eagerly joined the Union to fight for their freedom. It was on July 17, 1862, Congress passed two acts allowing the enlistment of African Americans, but official enrollment occurred after the September, 1862. 
Edgar Harrell Honorable Discharge

When I started researching my family history I wanted to know which one of my ancestors fought in the Civil War. I found several Harrell men who fought in the Unites States Colored Troop Enlistment (Louisiana), but no direct link to me. At the battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 27, 1863, the African American soldiers bravely faced the deadly artillery fire to gain their freedom.

My genealogy research revealed several Harrell family members fought in World War I. Times were extremely difficult for Black Southerners, most of them were farmers and sharecroppers who couldn't work their way out of debt. At this time many African-American men or women had no rights to vote. At the same time, some African-Americans were making the great migration up North and some found their way to New York.

It was my great uncles Edgar, Alec and Henry Harrell who bravely fought for change in World War I. They knew that in Amite, Louisiana, black people was segregated by the ugly force and faces of Jim Crow. They wanted to stand up for change or die trying. In their minds, they had seen the sharecroppers working hard all week and still couldn't afford to feed, clothed and provide shelter for their families. They were the direct children and first generation of grandchildren born to slaves.

The three brothers who fought in World War I,  had to protest the racial injustice at home in Tangipahoa, Louisiana. When they returned home they found that they still had to sit on the back of the bus, they were waited on last in the local stores. They still had to say yes sir to white men and women and sometimes too little white children. They returned home after the war and found that black people where still sharecropping and living in extreme poverty.

Letter from Clarence to parents
Edgar's son, Clarence E. Harrell, Jr. fought in WWII, this war last from 1939-1945.  My genealogy research revealed that Dan, Johnnie and Willie Harrell also fought in World War II and they each received an Honorable Discharge. I was happy to find a letter from my second cousin Clarence Harrell, Sr. to his parents Edgar and Minnie Nolan Harrell.

Letter Transcribed:

Hello mom:

Just a few line to inform that I am doing great and that I am in the best of health. I wish that you, dad and Juanita are doing grand, also that you are in the best of health.

Mom I received you letter yesterday and was very glad to hear from you. Tell cousin Rendy hello for me and that I will be home the next time she come. Tell Juanita and all the relatives and friends hello for me. This is all for now, closing with much love and kisses. Your Son Clarence

Clarence E. Harrell, Jr. 
This letter wasn't dated and I didn't find the envelope.  His mother kept this letter all those years until she passed away. After her daughter, Juanita Harrell Stewart kept this letter in her collection. I have donated this letter to the Antoinette Harrell collection at the Amistad Research Center. It gives me great pleasure to blog and write about the men and women who fought in battle for change. These courageous and brave men and women should be honored by their family members. We may never know what they endured for our freedom, that many of us take for granted. Although the brave men that I am writing about have long passed away. But the honors, dignity, and pride they left as a legacy will forever remain.

I learned a lot about the men and women in my family who served in the Military and today I want to say thank you. From WWI until now, men and women in my family have served in the military. Your names may not appear on the pages of the history books. There are times that members of your own family may not recognize the services you rendered for your freedom. But in the end, we couldn't have obtained it without you.

Thank You!
Henry Harrell, Frank, Harrell, Sr., Herbert Harrell, Raymond Harrell, Sr. Adam Gordon, Robert Gordon, Oliver Jackson, Emmitt N. Richardson, Nathaniel Richardson, Thomas Richardson, Sr., Alvin Lewis, Darren Lewis, Deddrick Washington, Mykeal Cook, Roosevelt Harrell, Sr., Willie K. Gordon, Jr. Willie Harrell, Johnnie Harrell, Edgar Harrell, Sr. Clarence Harrell, Jr. Dan Harrell, Henry Harrell, Edgar Harrell, Alec Harrell,Frank Gordon, Sr., Lance Harrell, Milton Temple, Bruce Temple, Efrem Temple, Gerald Temple, Gary Temple, Johnell Temple, Josephine Richardson, Robert Temple, Sam Holden, Sr., Daryl Richardson