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Monday, May 29, 2006

A soldier's true color

A soldier's true color Iowa cemetery honors discovery that Revolutionary War fighter was black Gerome Crayton of Keokuk is taking to heart his portrayal of Cato Mead, a black Revolutionary War soldier buried near Montrose."This guy was a neat guy. He was looking for a peace in his life, and he settled here in Iowa,'' Crayton said. "I'm glad that after his story has been hidden in the dark for many years, he is finally getting recognized.''On Memorial Day weekend, when the graves of so many soldiers, sailors and Marines are decorated, a monument to Mead will be among the seven featured in a cemetery tour today.One of 41 Revolutionary War soldiers who died or were buried in Iowa, Mead "may very well be" the only black Revolutionary War soldier buried west of the Mississippi River, said Maurice Barboza, founder of a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to erecting a monument to the more than 5,000 blacks who fought in the War for Independence.Residents of Montrose have known for years that the area was the final resting place for a Revolutionary War soldier. But there was an important nugget of information about Mead that slipped from common knowledge as the story passed from generation to generation, local historians say.The fact that Mead was black resurfaced last fall as researchers prepared for Memorial Day 2006 weekend observances in this Lee County community of about 900 people.Barbara MacLeish of Minneapolis, whose father lives in Montrose, discovered in census records that Mead was a "freed man of color," a black man who served in the Revolutionary War."It was just unbelievable at first," said Mary Sue Chatfield, a member of Montrose Riverfront Inc., which recently opened the Hunold Heritage Center museum. "We were just amazed. It was known that he was a Revolutionary War soldier, but no one paid that close attention. ... There aren't many living descendants of people buried in the old part of the cemetery."Even in small communities, names of many settlers have long been forgotten. Full Story:


  • At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The issues in this story have deep Washington, D.C. roots and suggests how Alabama and other deep south states might respond positively to the dilemma of segregated organizations that benefit from local and federal tax laws or reflect unfavorablly on public servants who should always consider the sensibilities of all backgrounds of their constituents.

    Fred Kleinknecht, the former Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Masons, Southern Jurisdiction, had initiated efforts in the District of Columbia, beginning as early as 1975 to bring together his organization and the Prince Hall Masons, the black Lodge. In June 2006, now retired, he testified before the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission on legislation to establish a memorial to the more than 5,000 black soldiers of the Revolutionary war, including Prince Hall and his son Primus. Mr. Kleinknecht thought this history could bring together the two Masonic groups across the country for a common purpose that honors the nation's birth. He is now a member of the Board of National Mall Liberty Fund D.C., ( the organization I chair to build the memorial. See his statement at --

    Primus Hall knew General Washington, and his father was one of several free blacks (already in the Army) who protested Washington's initial order to bar blacks from the Continental Army. Washington is feted as the most famous Mason, and he clearly understood the role blacks played under him in winning the Revolution. Fred thought that history could heal wounds and bring Masons, white and black, together -- as well as the nation.

    Legislation to build the memorial, the National Liberty Memorial Act, S. 2495, was introduced by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and, among others, Senator Charles H. Grassley of Iowa, who is a member of the Scottish Rite Masons. Senator Grassley has been a strong supporter of this concept for over 20 years. See his statement at The key committee where our bill (National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy Committee) is pending is chaired by Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming. Senator Thomas is also a member of the Scottish Rite Masons.

    Fred arranged a meeting with Senator Thomas in October of 2005. Mr. Kleinknecht told him how significant this legislation was to the prospect of future unity between the black and white Masonic orders. We are persuaded that Senator Thomas will eventually support our bill and understands its national ramifications for racial unity. We hope that the bill will be approved in the lame duck session. Certainly, had it been approved months ago, it could have diffused some of the controversy inherent in the AP story coming out of Alabama. Perhaps that Scottish Rite Lodge would have accepted the call to help build this national memorial that would go on the Mall at Constitution Gardens, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and World War II Memorial. They would be standing up for those who helped create the U.S. and the freedoms they enjoy -- black soldiers and patriots, some of whom were also Masons and some of whom sired Prince Hall Masons.

    In 1975, the District of Columbia City Council (see transcription of the Washington Star article attached) under chairman Marion Barry and Dave Clarke conducted a hearing that involved the Scottish Rite Masons, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati and other exclusive organizations not known at the time to have black members. The Council was considering removing the real estate tax exemption from organizations that did not reflect the multiracial make up of the District. Mr. Kleinknecht was a witness there and described what he was doing to work with the black Masonic group to find unity. Two years later my aunt Lena Santos Ferguson was rejected for membership in the DAR. Only after a four year battle did she finally gain membership. Today, thanks to her, perhaps as many as 30 black women have joined the organization.

    Maurice Barboza


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