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Historian speaks about black soldiers of the Civil War at Arrow Rock event

Monday, February 17, 2014

Historian Joe Louis Mattox speaks to the audience about black soldiers in the Civil War for Arrow Rock's rescheduled First Saturday event at Arrow Rock State Historic Site Visitor Center Museum on Saturday, Feb. 15.
(Jesse Brown/Democrat-News)
Visitors made the trek to Arrow Rock to attend the presentation of "Blacks in Blue in the Civil War from Kansas and Missouri" by historian Joe Louis Mattox on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 15.

Held in the auditorium of the Arrow Rock State Historic Site Visitor Center Museum, the attendees packed the room listening to Mattox talk about the history of black soldiers in the Civil War, even though technical difficulties hindered the historian's visual presentation.

Mattox began his presentation speaking about the film "12 Years a Slave" and said that for African-Americans, the film was very painful. However, Mattox said to know where you're going, you have to know where you came from. "12 Years a Slave" is an adaptation of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir about a free northern black man being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Mattox then shifted his presentation to speak about the First Kansas Colored Infantry assembled by Sen. James Henry Lane. He said because of movies like "Glory," it's been incorrectly stated that the 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the first colored troop to fight the war. He said that honor goes to the First Kansas Colored Infantry who fought the Battle of Island Mound.

"The border war is one of those situations in American history, a time in American history, when Kansas and Missouri were at war with each other about the issue of slavery," Mattox said. "The First Kansas Colored was raised by one of the first senators of Kansas, Sen. Jim Lane and that took it to a little higher level."

Throughout his presentation, Mattox kept asking what can we do to make our great country a more perfect union.

Jim Thompson (left) gives Joe Louis Mattox (right) a buffalo soldier patch he inherited from his stepfather, Col. A.R. Troxell. His stepfather received the patch when he was in the American Legion in Columbia and Thompson said one of the legionnaires must have given it to him.
(Jesse Brown/Democrat-News)
"A part of the language of our great country is that all men are born free, born equal," Mattox said. "... To make it a more perfect union, we got to have everybody help push the wagon. We got to have everybody to want to become somebody and how do we do that? We do it by meetings like this of explaining each person's culture, background and their dreams."

Mattox, a historian at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and State Museum in Kansas City, said he was honored just getting the invitation to come to Arrow Rock to speak about black history in the area.

"Arrow Rock is important in the African-American experience in the state of Missouri," Mattox said. "This is a historic site and one of the reasons why I say 'historic site' is because of what black people were doing here in the late 1800s. We need to celebrate that."

The First Saturday event was originally scheduled for Feb. 1. However, because of severe weather, it was rescheduled for Feb. 15.

Contact Jesse Brown at jbrown@marshallnews.com

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