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Capt. John T. Lesley Camp #1282

Community Involvement - African-Americans

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The camp particiates in numerous community events, including living histories, re-enactments.  One event of particular note occurs annually in St. Petersburg, Florida in June.  Juneteenth is the annual Black Freedom Day celebration commemorating the end of slavery in America.  Follows is the report from 1998:

Juneteenth, The Report

Great preparation went into the effort that this camp put forth with our booth at the historically black celebration called Juneteenth.  We wanted to make absolutely sure that our presentation was first class.  This story is the report of a success.  Some of us entertained no doubt that a success it would be.  Others just knew that we were simply asking for trouble.  Here is that story and what happened.

It was somewhere around the middle of May that Tampa Tribune reporter Tracey Reddick called and relayed an invitation from a Ms. Jeanie Blue, Executive Director of Juneteenth of Tampa Bay, Inc. of St. Petersburg.  We were being asked whether or not we would accept the invite to participate as members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (Lesley Camp) in their celebration.  The response was needed then.  A reporter was on the phone and, no doubt, she was working on a story.  With the prod of that knowledge, quickly the answer was, "Yes, and we would be honoured."   Honestly, irregardless of the pressure of the moment, that was the ONLY answer which could have been given.  We know the facts of our history, we know the truth of our history, and we are eloquent enough.  All of that added up to a very simple "Yes, and we would be honoured."  And so the ball began rolling, toward the day of Saturday, June 20, the day of Juneteenth.

As soon as the Tribune printed the story it was picked up by other local press, NPR, and even the national wire services.  Plus, a St. Petersburg Times story was sent out over the Internet connections.  Reporters called looking for a story and members of the Lesley Camp called expressing their support.  There was a certain amount of inward elation, because now the possibility that the story so often told but so seldom heard was going to get a hearing.

This new relationship between the predominantly black Juneteenth organization in St. Pete and the predominantly white members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans flew in the face of the logic and understanding of many.  The press was guardedly open minded while certain members of the black community (and some members of the Juneteenth Board) thought that Jeanie Blue was asking for trouble.  Then a few members of the Lesley Camp and a few other SCV folks in Florida and the rest of the country expressed unsettling views at the prospect of a  group like the SCV having anything to do with an organization like Juneteenth.

Some Juneteenth Board members were so apprehensive that they voted to allow us to come but we would not be permitted to bring any flags or to wear any uniforms.  These people forecast that if we appeared with flags and uniforms that there would be a guttural and violent response from the black population. 

At the same time, members of the predominantly white community were forecasting similarly dire consequences if we were to appear with flags and in uniform in South St. Petersburg, the same area where major rioting occurred a couple of years ago.  It became pretty obvious that there exists a major chasm in the perceptions of Southern folks of differing colour.

Whether or not we would come with our flags and uniforms was settled after members of the Juneteenth Board viewed the Preserving Our Heritage film, "Black Southern Heritage".  They decided to "take the plunge" by trusting us and allowing us to come and appear as we are.  (Thank you Compatriot Mike Crane for this wonderful and vital film production.)

We had personal, one on one, discussions with Jeanie Blue and the rest of the Juneteenth people and then, the stage was set.  The only things we had to do was to pick our people who would man our "Living History" at our designated spot in Campbell Park and to create a visual display that would instantly inform and educate to the point of leaving the casual black visitor dumbfounded with breath-taking knowledge.

The people selected, who came and were with us that day, were Captain Don Lewis of Co K and the Lesley Camp, Compatriot Capt. Mike and Pam Crane (who came from Hollywood, Florida), attorney and Lesley Camp Legionnaire Frank Jakes, Lesley Camp Legionnaire Ross Lamoreaux, and Compatriots Doug Hill and Marion Lambert both of the Lesley Camp. 

There were two tents and two flys set up with all of the material and accouterments of a Confederate camp on display.  From muskets to canteens, it was all there. 

The display was about 60 square feet of professionally laminated pictures, quotes, facts and material directed and targeted to the black audience.  Mike Crane had the video Black Southern Heritage playing continuously while we had a gross of the two books, Forgotten Confederates and Black Southerners in Graydisplayed and all for sale at cost.
9When we were first putting up our five Confederate flags there was a cat call from a passing motorist.  Even though in a park, we were set up at a major intersection.   That was the first and last insult that was thrown at us.  The rest of the day we spent conversing and interacting with folks, black folks. 

The president of the Juneteeth Board. Mr. Clarance Mills, came by and said, more than once, that he was glad that he had changed his vote and that we were there with flags and all.  Many contacts were made in the black community. 

Black jazz artist Belinda Womack even took us onto the main stage and introduced us to the crowd.  Before she sang a version of Amazing Grace, she gave a rousing speech about symbols and how one must define them properly.

An added plus is that from all of this National Public Radio is planning to do a piece on this whole phenomena of black Confederates and addressing the assertion that we make that Blacks are Southerners. 

We do look forward to next year.  We do hope and pray that we are invited back.   And it is a fact,  people of colour are invited to come to our events. 

We have a common homeland and we are all Southerners.

-Article submitted by 1st Lt. Cmdr. Marion Lambert

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Editor's Note:

Proudly Served & Remembered
at
Arlington National Cemetery

The John T. Lesley Camp would like to take a moment to acknowledge the service of Black Soldiers of the Confederacy.  A little known fact is that the first military monument to African-Americans is protrayed above and represents the service of Black Southerners.  Created by Moses Ezekiel, master sculptor and veterean of the Confederate Army, and dedicated in 1914 by Theodore Roosevelt and the United Daughers of the Confederacy, "The New South Monument"  shows only too well the historical reality.

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