George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Paul Revere and … Wentworth Cheswell? Most people would be at a loss for the last man named, but had the British gone north instead of west it would have been Cheswell known for his midnight ride to alert the masses that, “the red-coats are coming!”
Cheswell’s northern ride was responsible for reinforcements arriving to fight in the battle of Lexington, and in part, helped to secure victory for the revolutionary forces. Not only was Cheswell intimately involved with the revolution, he was also the first African-American elected to public office.
The shot heard ‘round the world could have easily been his historic election, but why do so many people furrow their brow and stare blankly when told his story? Black History Month gives students the chance to think about the rich and powerful stories that aren’t taught in schools and seem to be forgotten in the public mind.
Black history has been taught from kindergarten as mainly the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, as well as Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. All of these pioneers deserve as much praise and study as they receive, if not more. The history of America would not be worth the paper it’s written on had it not been for the efforts of blacks fighting alongside whites from its inception, and it’s a tragedy that the stories of many heroes goes unnoticed by so many.
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze was a German-born artist who grew up in America and later returned to Germany as an adult. His best-known work is “The Crossing of the Delaware,” but not as well known is what inspired his iconic work. During the European revolutions of 1848, Leutze was deeply moved to depict the magic that encompassed why America emerged victorious. The moment he chose to immortalize was only part of the story.
Oliver Cromwell and Prince Whipple, both African-American patriots and free men, were shown fighting alongside George Washington as was an unknown woman dressed as a man. Leutze’s view of American greatness was based on us all working together, men and women, black and white.
American exceptionalism stems from a united belief in freedom and a desire to remain free, and has been a founding ideal since our country’s beginning. In 1772, England officially ended the slave trade while turning a blind eye to its continuance. Several colonies in America followed suit by putting anti-slavery laws on the books over the next few years. King George took exception to those laws and vetoed them, adding fuel to the revolutionary fire.
African-American heritage is more than chain gangs, more than slavery and more than pain and suffering. The triumph of America belongs to all Americans, and the victory came on the shoulders of great men and women of all races. This month provides an opportunity to get interested in the achievements of African-Americans throughout history and celebrate the ability of the human spirit.
Lesser Known African-American Trailblazers
Peter Salem, Prince Estabrook, James Armistead, Lemuel Haynes , Benjamin Banneker, Joseph Rainey, Hiram Revel, Benjamin O. Davis Sr.
By Jonathan Boldt