My passion was African American history during the Civil War era. I had done a great deal of research on the subject, however it was difficult to find an audience or support. The gospel music station WFLT gave me an opportunity to share what I had learned with their listening audience. I spoke for over an hour and anticipated feed back from the Flint Community. Only one person called the station for more information however and that was Jim Campbell. Jim was a college teacher and asked me to speak at his Black History class, which I was eager to do. I spoke at Jimís history class on several occasions for close to 2 hours each. I enjoyed speaking to Jimís captured audience and he invited me to speak to another captured audience at the Lapeer Correctional facility. Jim had been a prison volunteer for some time and had established relationships with the prison and many inmates serving there. Jim was not only a teacher in prison but he was also their friend. On several occasions I met with Jim for lunch and a prisoner that had recently been released joined us. Jim was interested in their lives and well-being even after they were released from prison
I had this idea of teaching black history with presentations, plays and reenactments. The idea was to use black history as a tool for making the lives of people better. Jim agreed to help me and serve on the board of The Gospel Army Black History Group from its beginning.
We taught this history at schools, prisons and Crossroads Village. Jim seldom missed an event. Jim helped in every way he could. He researched important Civil War battles that black troops participated in and help to correct inaccuracies. Jim narrated battle re-enactments as well as portraying Generals that commanded black Civil War troops. He portrayed General Butler and General Hunter who both started the first black Civil War regiments.
Jimís most compelling role however was that of portraying John Brown at his trial and hanging. On his way to the gallows, Jim would stop to kiss the black child, according to John Brownís legend. Jim did this well because he had John Brownís soul.
A song was written about John Brown and was turned into the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The song fits Jim Campbell well.
He is gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord
Jim Campbell passed away last year. We will miss Jim and we know we canít replace him but we will not quit or give up. Jim would not want us to do that.
John A. White Jr.
The Gospel Army project directly responds to the problem of poverty in our community because it addresses the legacy of slavery. The institution of slavery as it was practiced in the United States for more than two hundred years not only impoverished black Americans but attempted to render them hopeless and totally dependent on their white masters -- the "plantation mentality." A large number of blacks in our community are still poor and defeated. Small children in these families not only suffer all the negative effects of poverty but are conditioned to believe there is little that can be done. Recent studies show that a large percentage of the people of Flint feel the community is without leadership, they distrust the existing political leadership, yet they have a tendency to passively wait for somebody from higher up to set things right. This unhealthy outlook has roots in the legacy of slavery. Yet, there is another truth to the history of slavery, that slaves only survived but actually maintained their dignity and struggled to achieve a better life. The various activities of the Gospel Army project, including the Juneteenth program at Crossroads Village and the activities of the local black Civil War re-enactors, expose the local black community to those blacks in slavery who took action to improve their situation and change the way of life in America (incidentally a change that benefits all Americans, not just blacks). Their bravery and sacrifice (the ultimate sacrifice in the case of thousands of black Civil War soldiers) can be an inspiration to the poor and hopeless blacks of our community. The Gospel Army project is a significant contribution to the fight against poverty and hopelessness in our community.
Jim Campbell, Mott Community College
Shortly after Jim died we lost Major Grays. Like Jim, Mayor was with us from the beginning and never missed a meeting or presentation. Majorís favorite part was called "Prayer in the trading yard." The story is from the slave narratives and described the experience of a family being sold in a New Orleans slave trade market. They were caught praying however a motherís faith prevailed. Major loved that narration. Towards the end he was sick and it was difficult for him to walk. He said that he would make it to the play on his own. Major died 8 weeks later. We really miss him.
It was good to hear from Denice Burkeff with the information that you wanted to get feed-back on the Juneteenth festivities. Personally, I want to thank you for allowing me to participate. Being a History and English major in school, with minors in theater and speech, I found the whole concept fascinating. It re-opened my eyes and mind to some things that I had either forgotten or become too comfortable with. In portraying the role of Steven Williams, a lot of feelings were stirred inside of me. Some of which I never knew I had. It brought to life sorrowful memories of what our ancestors had to endure. What they went through in order for us to be at the place in time in which we are. And yet, we still have a very long way to go. There is still another river to cross. I met a lot of talented people from all stages of life. But the one thing that shined in my eye was the wholeness. That desire to bring this 'thing" to life. The wanting to show others what had already been endured and what was yet needed, by us as a people. I hope and pray that this was NOT the last time a segment of our history would be displayed. I also hope that WHEN the next saga unveils, I shall once again play a role. Please contact me at any time. I have given you all the information needed in which to do this except my work schedule, which is M-F 8am-4pm. Once again, it was a lot fun and very informative. I look forward to the next one. God bless you and keep you safe.
My name is Patricia Enright Gray. It was indeed a pleasure and an honor to act in, as well as, direct the Gospel Army in the Juneteenth Celebration at Crossroads Village. This was my second consecutive year working with John and the Group. The most rewarding aspect for me was the fact that history for so many years have been confined to books. If you don't read, you don't get any history. Juneteenth has worked as a catalyst to bridge the gap between the reader and the non-reader. This program also allows the participant the opportunity to bring history to life in a dramatic, funny, spiritual and factual fashion. For so long, people have believed that slaves lacked human qualities. Black, as well as, white Americans need to understand as well as experience through visual arts the integrity, family values, and strength of the slaves and soldier. I'm looking forward to many more years to come with the Juneteenth Celebration. In closing, I would like to say it is my pleasure and honor to share my God given talent as an actor and a director with the Gospel Army.
I am writing this letter to express the elation I get from being a participant in the gospel army, Civil war re-enactors. I am a graduate of University of Michigan. I hold a BA in World History and a minor in African American studies.
The research that John White has done is truly remarkable. This information is vital to the process of elevating the perception of African Americans in this community to a status of equality.
We are endeavoring as a group to show the dehumanizing experience of slavery from a victorious perspective, "for a people to endure such a terrible institution and still thrive means that they are greater than the sum total of what has come against them."
The true story of African Americans role in the development of this nation must be illuminated to White people and Black people in order to raise us from the destructive doldrums of ignorance and hatred to the lofty heights of respect and appreciation.
I am happy to be a part of something that I feel will help bring American society to a point of realizing that this is not just the story Black people versus White people but it is a story of the triumph of righteousness over a tremendously evil institution, whose ramifications are still manifested and must be eradicated.
As a result of working with Juneteenth in the re-enactment of the Civil War, (Black) in particular, I have received an education as well as insight into this era. I hope to see this program continue. For two years, I have had the privilege of portraying two honored people, Sergeant Spencerís and Captain Garland H. White. Also, this year, I played the part of the Color Bearer. It is such an exciting event that one finds it very easy to be in character. John White, the overseer of the re-enactment is doing a fine job.
For the past two years, it has been my privilege to work as a non-professional actress in the historical re-enactment at Crossroads Village. The experience has proven to be educational as well as pleasant. Working to learn the role of the character one is to portray, as well as, listening to other portrayals is not only fun, but you learn a lot of history as part of the bargain. It's really learning while doing. I have had the opportunity to meet some new people and learn from them. You do not feel intimated because everyone is a novice and from various communities striving to portray something positive for everyone.
Portraying former slave Mary Reynolds was a very educational experience for me. I'd never heard of Mary, or any other characters in the re-enactment until the Juneteenth Celebration. I'm a great history buff, so I learned a lot of history by studying for the role. I also enjoyed meeting and interacting with the others who were involved. But I really learned one thing. Even in the harsh times of slavery, prayer and faith in the Lord got many of the slaves through hard times. The same thing applies today. Having trust and faith in the Lord.
In working with the Juneteenth re-enactments, I have grown so much as an actress and have learned even more about my history. This re-enactment has given me an opportunity to venture out in other areas of interest - such as Michigan Storytellers. I have also met so many new people, and have experienced so many working conditions. I found I can stretch my self to an area I did not know I was capable of. Everything about this experience was so very wonderful. I would love to continue in this re-enactment.
The Gospel Army Project began many years before its inception as a yearly presentation at Cross Road Village. It began as an identity search via the research and history of the Battle of New Market Heights. This search lead to a project with young Black American men. This project lead to the creation of a young male troop of gospel soldiers. These cadets were to respond to the struggle of Black Americans in a blighted area of an unhealthy community. Their response would be based on the principles of the beatitudes. This experience with young people was, as one would expect, far more rewarding than the service rendered.
The quest culminated with the blessing of having some of the most talented and amazing persons in this spear as an associate in your lifetime. The attempt to provide community leadership in the form of a young male army is an ethical, righteous and non self serving stance in an unhealthy and material world'. This Pollyanna view was also and is for sure the only way to go.
Additional Civilian re-enactors are Rosie Brown, Willie George, Estella Simpkins, Bruce Bradley, Dartanya Croff, Heidi Mathes and Keisha Talbert.
The Gospel Army Black History Group,
Copyright © 2006 The Gospel Army Black History Group. All rights reserved.