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Explore the Black History Collection

African American Collection

In 1976, President Ford designated February as Black History Month to highlight the achievements of African Americans in U.S. history. He encouraged the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In honor of Black History Month, we invite you to enjoy Fold3’s Black History Collection. This collection includes many enlightening historical records documenting African American achievements since the earliest days of our nation. Of particular interest are those from the Civil War era as we continue to observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

As soon as black soldiers were recruited to serve the Union in 1863, records were generated to document their service including Compiled Service Records for the U.S. Colored Troops and, ultimately, pension files. The pension file index cards, like this one for Joel Bedenbaugh, include a soldier’s rank, company, and regiment within the U.S.C. Infantry, his pension numbers, and sometimes a death date, 24 August 1913, in this case. Private Bedenbaugh’s 16-page service record also includes his enlistment record from when he joined up in Dayton, Ohio, in 1864.

Southern Claims Commission files are petitions by southerners who lost property to Union troops during the Civil War, including many blacks, like William and Louisa Ferguson. Though freeborn, Louisa was not only the wife of a slave, but also the daughter of George Washington’s carpenter, also a slave. Their claim for compensation of $150 for the loss of a horse was denied, but Louisa’s tales of Union and Confederate troops in the vicinity includes her encounters with the rebels and her service to the Union hospital nearby. View the transcription.

Explore these and thousands of other records documenting the history of African Americans in the U.S., from before the Civil War to the War in Vietnam. Join us as we recognize Black History Month with free access to our African American Collection during the month of February.

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