African patriots monument celebrated

The “Patriots of African Descent” monument was erected in 1993 and is the nation’s only commemoration on federal property that pays tribute to those African patriots who served in the founding of our nation. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

The “Patriots of African Descent” monument was erected in 1993 and is the nation’s only commemoration on federal property that pays tribute to those African patriots who served in the founding of our nation.

The Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. erected the monument in 1993 at Valley Forge National Park, and will mark the 20th anniversary with the attendance of it’s creators: artist Cal Massey and sculptor Phil Sumpter — both of whom are in their 80s.

The monument is a granite block with carved text and a bronze bas-relief that depicts three soldiers of African descent, one facing left, one facing right, and one in the middle facing straight ahead.

On the back of the monument reads the words: “In Honor of the patriots of African descent who served, suffered and sacrificed during the Valley Forge Encampment 1777-1778.”

There is also a quote by Charles L. Blockson, the founder of the Blockson Collection of African-American historical documents at Temple University: “Throughout these historic and hallowed campsites were courageous Black Patriots who participated in our nation’s bitter fight for independence.”

It was Blockson’s 1975 book, “Pennsylvania’s Black History,” that inspired chapter founding member, Martha Russell, to form the chapter in 1991 to raise awareness of the service of African Americans in the American Revolution. Blockson, who grew up in Norristown, participated in a Boy Scout march to Valley Forge during the 1940s and was disappointed to find no historical markers about African Americans.

Russell initiated meetings between suburban-based Delta Sigma Theta members and Valley Forge National Historical Park in 1990 to propose a monument to African Americans in the Revolution.

Immediately following the chartering, the chapter righted a historical wrong at the Valley Forge National Historical Park, and in February 1992 the chapter sponsored the African American Patriots Day at Valley Forge. The monument project was guided by an advisory council of community leaders formed in March 1992 with Blockson as honorary chairperson.

Since the monument’s unveiling in 1993, the statue aided in educating visitors of Valley Forge about the diverse cultures that contributed to the nation’s birth.

“What makes the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter unique in its own right is its erecting of the ‘Patriots of African Descent’ monument,” noted Sherry Wilson Butler, chapter president. “The site erected in 1993 in the Valley Forge Park is the only monument built on federal ground in the United States paying tribute to the thousands of men of African descent who served in the Revolutionary War. Now, with the inclusion of its ‘Military Milestones’ project the chapter will recognize and honor today’s military men and women returning home from duty. An annual wreath laying ceremony and program salutes our Patriot ancestors, as well as current military service men and women.”

The Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will host its 20th Anniversary celebration of the “Patriots of African Descent” monument on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony that will recognize past and present military heroes in the name of our “Patriots of African Descent.

The wreath laying ceremony is free to the public in front of the monument in Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, Pa. For travel information, visit http://www.nps.gov/vafo/. Additional information about the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter can be found on their website dstvalleyforge.org.

 

Contact staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or bbooker@phillytrib.com.

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