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Historian speaks up for patriotism in blacks

By Justin Boron

James Hayes said he became a re-enactor of history for patriotism.

It was a coincidence that two newspaper stories ran on the same day in 1989 that fed his inspiration for the Civil War re-enactment.

One story, he said, cited a poll that showed most Americans felt African-Americans were less likely to be patriotic. Hayes, 49, said the other story was about a group of Civil War re-enactors who were being used as extras in the movie "Glory."

Seemingly contradictory, the two articles led him to join the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Working his way up the chain from the rank of private to second lieutenant, Hayes said his performances help articulate the contributions made by black soldiers during the Civil War and clear up the misconception that blacks are not patriotic.

"The fact is that African-Americans have fought for the U.S. in every single war for this country," he said.

Hayes, who also is a docent at the Atlanta History Center, said part of the misunderstanding stems from blacks' sometimes marginal position in the history books.

Gene Hatfield, a member of the Georgia Civil War commission, agrees with Hayes, saying the African-American presence in history was largely diminished by the predominantly white history writers of the time.

"Blacks were often viewed as being acted upon instead of being an actor," he said.

But through the Civil Rights Movement and historians like Hayes, the skewed point of view has become obsolete and blacks have a more equal share in history, said Hatfield, who also heads the social sciences department at Clayton College & State University.

Saturday, Hayes will speak at the Stately Oaks Plantation in the Bethel School as part of the museum's program on African-American History.

In addition to his appearance, the program will include speakers like local community activist Charles Grant, readings from African-American literature, and African food tasting, said Ted Key, the event's organizer.

Stately Oaks is at 100 Carriage Lane, Jonesboro. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children.