The Untold Stories of African-American in Our War for Independence
This year my wife read to our children a book titled Come All You Brave Soldiers: Blacks in the Revolutionary War written by Clinton Cox, “author of several highly-acclaimed books for young readers, including three on fascinating yet little-known aspects of African American military history,” (www.clintoncox.com). In Come All You Brave Soldiers, Cox recounts the untold, real stories of how African Americans helped win our War for Independence. Cox is clear and captivating, but not at the expense of facts. He is very much the scholar when it comes to educating his readers.
But writing history the way history happens is a hard assignment because our heroes don’t always pose just right for the camera. And we do prefer to romance our history, if only just a little. Cox didn’t. That’s what I found so riveting about his rendition of the war that set us free. With little dispute, the war for our independence is a bright day in American history. But we all know that we’ve picked up a fairy tale if we read that the sun always shines and never casts a dark shadow. And America, as great as it is, is not Camelot or Atlantis. But I digress.
Whose Independence was the War of Independence fought for?
In the real battle for our independence, it became very clear, that even if we won, everyone wasn’t going to be free. Here’s the painful irony of the War for Independence—African Americans were fighting for the land we helped make prosperous. We were fighting for our new home. But so long as we fought on the side of the colonists, we were helping to liberate the very ones who would make sure that we remained captives. So the War for Independence in real history wasn’t a war for independence for everybody. It was just a war for Independence if you weren’t black or brown.
So as An African-American Father, What do I Tell my Kids about Independence Day?
I will tell them the truth. Shouldn’t I? Isn’t that what we are supposed to tell our kids? I will tell them that the great founders of our nation spoke boldly of freedom and enlisted African Americans to fight alongside them to the death for freedom. I will tell them that around 5,000 African Americans enlisted in and fought bravely in the Continental Army. I will tell them that these brave African American soldiers, their forefathers, did this, despite the fact that their enemy—the British—offered them freedom and their countrymen continued slavery. I will tell them that their forefathers, men like Crispus Attucks, died fighting for America. I will tell them of men like James Robinson who fought gallantly, and men like James Amistead who risked everything as spies and survived the war only to be returned to slavery before gaining their freedom. I will tell them that others—many others—fought as soldiers for freedom and died as slaves in the very land that they helped to free. I will tell them that their forefathers fought for America even though America wasn’t fighting for them.
There are Noble Reasons to Sacrifice Your Liberty
I will tell my children that there are noble causes that are bigger than them. I will try to inspire them with the legacy of their brave forefathers who fought, died, and were re-enslaved, sacrificing all so that one day in America their children, or grandchildren, or great-great grand children would be free. So in the end, their slogan was “give me slavery and give me death so that my children’s children won’t have to endure this.” I will tell my children that the sacrifice of those brave men turned the tide in an otherwise almost unwinnable war, and as a result of their great sacrifice, America became free and has become the greatest nation on the face of the earth. I will tell my children that a heavy price was paid for their freedom, a cost paid bravely by their forefathers.
I will tell my children to respect men like George Washington, but not to idealize any man because we all have grave shorting-comings, and that none of us, even on our best days, are what we should hope to be. I will tell them this so that they will be gracious and not embittered about their past. I will tell them to enjoy the sun that shines in our country but to look for a brighter day — a day when the Son will reign over a truly free land where the brilliance of His glory will cast no shadows. I will tell them that they should thank God they live in America, but I will pray that they will live as foreigners longing for a citizenship in a better land—in Beulah land — a glorious place that exceeds any fairy tale you could dream of (1 Cor 2:9), a place where all who trust Jesus will be free because He died as a slave in place of sinners on a tree (Phil 2:5-11).
So What Will I Tell my Kids about Independence Day?
I will tell them to enjoy the fireworks because their forefathers fought in that great war too. I will also tell them a few other truths that most Americans have long since forgotten. I will particularly tell my kids those truths from history because I pray they will never forget the sacrifices that their forefathers made to make America free. I will tell them so that they will, as bravely as their forefathers fought, remind America on the 4th of July not to forget to celebrate their brave forefathers too.