Students in Paul LaRue’s senior honors history class at in Washington Court House (near Columbus, Ohio) are petitioning legislators to grant formal recognition of Ohio soldiers for their service in the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments during the Civil War. Barred from enlisting in Ohio due to their race, the 515 African American men opted to join segregated units in Massachusetts, and they initially received less pay than their white counterparts.
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry fought with distinction in the attack on Fort Wagner, a battle that was featured in the film Glory. One of its men, Pvt. William Nelson (who has ties to Fayette County, Ohio) is buried in the Washington Court House cemetery.
The bill has garnered 25 co-sponsors in the Ohio House of Representatives, and it awaits scheduling on the busy legislative agenda. Students hope the resolution will be adopted before they graduate in May.
Paul, who is an NCSS member, guided his Washington High School students in researching the contributions and service of these men. The students decided to request legislation that would properly recognize the soldiers’ extraordinary courage and dedication.
Paul says, “My class has had an opportunity to take curriculum from the classroom into the real world. The students are now acting as public history advocates, to correct an example of racial discrimination from 150 years earlier.” He adds, “The resolution’s sponsor, State Representative Jim Butler, is a past history student of mine. He later graduated from the U.S. NavalAcademy and the University of Maryland with an M.A. in history. It is rewarding to see a past student work with my current class on this worthwhile project.”
-this article oringially appeared in The Social Studies Professional , April 2012