Frederick Douglass on Black Soldiers
Once Lincoln gave the go ahead for the enlistment of black soldiers, prominent African Americans such as Frederick Douglass were asked to help with recruitment. Douglass was delighted and sent two of his sons to join the ranks of the now famous 54th Massachusetts. It quickly became apparent that black soldiers would not be treated equally with whites: less pay, no chance for advancement, and menial duty. Speaking to a group in Philadelphia, he explained that despite such treatment, the enlistment of black soldiers was a significant event.
“This is no time for hesitation…Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States. I say again, this is our chance, and woe betide us if we fail to embrace it.”