New exhibit coming to Roots 101 African American Museum

Roots 101 African American exhibit helps identify black Civil War veterans
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 3:27 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A new exhibit is coming to the Roots 101 African American Museum in downtown Louisville.

According to the release, the exhibit is titled, “We Fought For Our Freedom: Kentucky’s African American Civil War Soldiers.”

Visitors can learn the stories of the soldiers who were slaves when they joined the Union Army’s 108th U.S. colored infantry regiment. The group was founded in Louisville.

When it comes to their heritage, a lot of black people, including me, can only go back so far before they run into a road block but thanks to the creators of this exhibit, understanding how to find your ancestors may be a little easier.

The Executive Director of Reckoning, Dan Gediman, said that the importance of this project is evident.

“So the whole point of our project which is called the Kentucky U.S. colored project is to use these military records,” Gediman said. “And in particular these pension records as a way to open up and to connect the records from slavery that exist in Kentucky to the records that exist after the civil war to allow people today the African Americans today to try and find who there enslaved ancestors were.”

Out of all the pitfalls of slavery, one aspect that is often overlooked is the loss of identity. This loss is something many African Americans are in a continuous search for.

”We had a conversation about reparations and I asked, what would be meaningful reparations for you for slavery in this country,” Gediman recalls. “And she said, help me find my people.

Because most slave owners hold the paper trail to what happened to African Americans, it’s more difficult to trace back lineage. A name your family may know, may be different from what they were identified as in the 19th century.

“Up to half of all African American soldiers served under one name and lived under another name. So that means if you descend from an African American soldier you have a fifty-fifty chance that he served under a different name,” explained Gediman.

Wednesday’s West Louisville Forum dived into how African Americans identify themselves and how being clumped together as one hurts that identity.

”When you look at that history the reality is that there was a population that was enslaved in America and that population is owed a debt,” shared Attorney Antonio Moore. “And then you have a newer set to immigrants from the Caribbean and west Africa.. that’s a separate population - and they’re brought into one block and they’re not one block.”

But with the ability to now track black veterans through slave owners wills and and state inventories, African Americans in Louisville are more likely to find one of their great ancestors.

”Kentucky has the highest percentage of eligible black men who joined the Union Army. 44 percent of eligible black men from Kentucky that joined the Union Army,” Gediman broke down. “That made up one quarter of all of the Union soldiers who entered the army from Kentucky.”

The exhibit will be in the museum through December 31 of this year.