Dover program informs public on African Americans in Civil War

Kathy Trusty stands with materials related to her program “African Americans in the Civil War,” earlier this month at the Dover Public Library. The event was Ms. Trusty’s first presentation in Delaware. (Special to the Delaware State News/Arshon Howard)

DOVER — “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from” is a notion that Kathy Trusty lives by.

“If you don’t know your history, you can easily repeat it,” Ms. Trusty said. “Segregation and Jim Crow wasn’t too long ago. If people don’t know about their history, they can fall into the trap of not fully becoming who they are truly meant to be due to not knowing the sacrifices that were made for us to be living the life we’re living today.”

Ms. Trusty is an independent historian and a black history educator. She began this phase of her career in 1997 when she received a grant to document the history of African Americans in Paterson, New Jersey.

In conjunction with the third annual Dover Citywide Black History Celebration, she held a presentation at the Dover Public Library on Feb. 7 titled “African Americans and the Civil War,” which examined African Americans, free and enslaved, and their role in the Civil War during that time.

“It is important history to know,” Ms. Trusty said. “At first, African Americans were not allowed to fight and then they were, as more than 180,000 signed up. “The presentation (is meant to highlight) the challenges they faced and puts a face to soldiers who fought valiantly for the Union’s cause and freedom.”

The event was Ms. Trusty’s first presentation in Delaware. She has been conducting black history presentations, creating displays and producing black history programs for more than 15 years in Paterson, New Jersey.

“I just recently moved to Delaware,” Ms. Trusty said. “Once I got settled, I joined Delaware Humanities and wanted to continue to spread that same message here.”

Ms. Trusty said she’s asked for black history content regularly from educators around the country, as she just recently started focusing on the Civil War.

“When I was living in New Jersey I received a grant to document the history of prominent black figures in Paterson. That was my focus at first.”

Her research led to collaboration with the Paterson Museum on the exhibition, “As I was Saying…” Reflections of African Americans in Paterson. She also collaborated the with the museum on “Silk City Slugger: First in the American League,” an exhibit about Paterson native, Larry Doby, the first African American to play baseball in the American League.

“I just became immersed in learning about our history,” Ms. Trusty said. “Once that was over, I found out that I could teach this history in the schools so I just started contacting local schools in the area and started presenting what I learned.

“It reached a point where I couldn’t go to the schools and present the same information. I had to figure out what I wanted to do next.”

Around that time she said the Civil War was something that always interested her so from there she found a way to present new material.

“I started learning and researching about African Americans in the Civil War,” Ms. Trusty said. “I felt that a lot people would want to know about this aspect of the Civil War, so from there I started to present my findings at different locations.”

The presentation includes repositories including the Library of Congress and the National Archive. It also includes images and different news articles during that time related to the Civil War such as an image of a slave market in Georgia, an advertisement for “Colored Troops,” and pictures of great men who fought in the war.

“I think this information is important for people to know,” Ms. Trusty said. “In June 1864, Congress passed legislation giving black soldiers equal pay. This type of information is something that makes you realize the struggles and sacrifices that were made to get to the point we are today.”

Ms. Trusty said she was nervous during her presentation at the Dover Public Library, but helping people become more knowledgeable about the role African Americans played in the Civil War is all that matters to her.

“It was my first time doing it here in Delaware,” Ms. Trusty said. “There were little jitters there, but I know the material and that’s all that matters. With anything you do no matter how long you’ve been doing it for, you can always get better.”

“This is all I do. This is all I know. As long as I’m able to communicate with the audience and educate them on something they may have not known before lets me know that I’m doing my job right.”

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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