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Reggie Jackson: A Letter to My Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather

Amazing as this may sound, I’m writing you a letter from the future. I can’t explain how this is possible. What’s more important than how this is possible, is the fact that I’m here because of your sacrifices.

I just discovered in the last year (2019) that you volunteered to join the Union Army in 1863. I’ve read about the 180,000 brave Black men who served in the Army and 20,000 that joined the Navy in some of the history books. Not the ones I used in school though. Your valiant efforts have been mostly forgotten unfortunately.

I want you to know I have not forgotten what you are about to do. Let me tell you that in the end you will be on the winning side. In fact, the efforts of you and your peers will turn the tide of the war. 40,000 of your peers will give their lives for their freedom.

You will begin a long tradition of men and women in this family that will serve in the military. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. You helped break the shackles of 246 years of captivity in this strange place. The strength passed down to you by our ancestors who survived the deadly journey from our homes in Africa has sustained us for generations.

No one could possibly understand what you signed up for. You are literally in the belly of the beast, fighting for your life and the freedom of your people. Northern Mississippi is still a difficult place to live for Black people all these years later. Your side will win the war but unfortunately, cowards in fine clothing will turn their backs on you and those who fought along side you and your families in less than twenty years.

I know this realization will not stop you from fighting as bravely and gallantly as you would have had you never received this letter from me. Your unit will save the lives of hundreds by protecting a contraband camp of escaped Blacks. You will do what a group of White Union troops will refuse to do. They were fighting for the Union, not for you and your kind.

I want you to know that you efforts are not in vain. You will be the patriarch of a wonderful family. You will instill a sense of pride by your bravery. Your powerful voice will still be heard many years after you are gone. I will find out about your heroism and share it with the family.

They will be happy and proud. They will know that you helped make this country live up to the ideals embedded in the U.S. Constitution in a way that the children of the men who wrote that document never will.

Despite being treated like animals, you will stand up and be a proud man, setting an example that will be passed on from generation to generation. Your children will fight a good fight and pass on that spirit for many generations.

In conclusion, I’d like to say thank you for your service, sacrifices, wisdom and courage. I am who I am because of you. Keep your eyes open even when you sleep.

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also co-founder of Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.