Group Raising Money for Black Patriots Memorial

The Black Patriots Foundation is raising money to erect a memorial on the National Mall that will honor the more than 5,000 blacks who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Rhonda Roberson, president of the foundation, tells Ed Gordon about the group's vision for the memorial.

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ED GORDON, host:

There are ceremonies across the country today to remember those who died on the battlefield, but the sacrifice of black men who fought in the American Revolutionary War is often overlooked. Some may recall the name Crispus Attocks. He was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre. But there were more than 5,000 blacks who fought to win freedom for the colonies. The Black Patriots Foundation is leading an effort to honor those forgotten soldiers with a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. In 1986, Congress authorized legislation to raise funds for the memorial, but the foundation must come up with $10 million by September or risk losing the lease on the land.

Rhonda Roberson is president of the Black Patriots Foundation. She explains why she is so passionate about honoring these men.

Ms. RHONDA ROBERSON (President, Black Patriots Foundation): It is a history that has been buried. It's a history that has been forgotten for all practical purposes. It has not been a history that has been imparted to people.

GORDON: Now where are you in the process of the creation of this memorial?

Ms. ROBERSON: Well, we have all of our design approvals. The Department of Interior has selected the space, so the memorial will actually be placed in Constitution Gardens on the National Mall.

GORDON: Have you been pleased with the reception that you've gotten, not only from the government but, in particular, African-Americans in support of trying to erect this?

Ms. ROBERSON: I can't say that I'm pleased. I think `pleased' is an interesting word, but I won't use it. Through no fault of our own, many people really don't understand the history behind this memorial. You know, we're talking about a history that is over 200 years old, and so there are no veterans of the American Revolution walking around. The ones that we do know are the ones whose names have been formalized in all of the accounts of the American Revolution and the beginning of this country. But none of those names are the names of the people who this organization really promotes and talks about; for instance, James Armistead Lafayette, who was a master spy during the American Revolution. It was his information that was given to General Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown that really caused the American Revolution to come to a conclusion.

I can say that I am very pleased with the reception that we've gotten from the Congress. As you know, in order to even get a memorial on the National Mall, you have to have congressional approval on the authorization for this memorial.

GORDON: Now you mentioned the idea of support from Congress, and the real bottom line is getting the funding. You can never overlook the importance of individuals giving dollars. Talk to me about where you are, how much more you need to raise, and what you'd like to see, quite frankly, from the African-American community.

Ms. ROBERSON: We have a very solid pledge from a major defense contractor that we are finalizing, in the amount of about $3 million, and we still need about $6 million to finalize our fund raising.

GORDON: And how can people, if they want to, contribute?

Ms. ROBERSON: Well, you can certainly go to our Web site. You can make an online contribution. You can call in to an 800 number that's posted on our Web site. We are next month introducing purple wrist bands, and they simply say, `Save history,' this bit of history that few people are familiar with.

GORDON: Rhonda Roberson, thank you so much for being with us and sharing a little bit of history with us today. We appreciate it.

Ms. ROBERSON: Thank you so much.

GORDON: Rhonda Roberson is president of the Black Patriots Foundation. There's information on her organization on our Web site, npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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