Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Fire of Freedom" by David S. Cecelski (2012)

The story of Abraham Galloway is not one which we were taught as kids. It is the true tale of a man who wanted his freedom badly, and went to extraordinary lengths to acquire it. With a deft hand, author David Cecelski takes the reader along on a journey which begins with Abraham’s birth in 1837 as a slave in Smithville; near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina; and through his younger years apprenticed for a time as a brick layer.

It is fitting; in a way; that he was named Abraham, for he too would lead his people to freedom, just as Abraham had led them from Ur to Canaan in the Old Testament. In a way, this is the story of two Abrahams; one a slave; the other the President of the United States. That the two would meet in person, at the White House, in the midst of the Civil War is not surprising, as they were both exceptional men, and both would die far too young.

Abraham Galloway was a firebrand for freedom. He breathed it, spoke it and fought for it. He took his grievances all the way to the White House in 1864; and in between he organized African-American troops who would fight the Confederate army in the slave state of North Carolina. And when the war was through, he embarked upon a political career, becoming one of the first black men ever elected to the Legislature in North Carolina.

Most of the story takes place in the area of New Bern, North Carolina and the battles in the area of Wilmington. But the book goes far beyond the simple story of Mr. Galloway’s quest for freedom. In the spring of 1864 it became apparent that the Confederate troops were being massacred in the field when captured. For Galloway, these reports hit very close to home. At the Battle of Plymouth in early 1864, Confederate General Ransom’s brigade had taken no prisoners after encountering African-American troops in the field. They even killed the women and children hiding in the woods. This was the catalyst for Galloway’s meeting with the President.
After meeting with Lincoln, Galloway embarked on a tour of the North to raise money to supply the African-American brigades. A soldier, statesman and a spy for the North, Abraham Galloway’s story is a must read for anyone who is seriously interested in the history of the Civil War. The sheer determination, and will to persevere, against overwhelming odds; all while facing the loss of his own life to further what he saw as justice; will forever stand tall among the stories of war and those who gave more than was expected of them.

Mr. Galloway passed away at the age of 40 in 1870, just as the Ku Klux Klan began their 100 year denial of South's defeat. Had Galloway lived there is no telling what else he might have contributed to the advancement of Civil Rights in an era which begat Jim Crow Laws and institutional segregation.
With a skilled eye for detail, as well as the politics of the era, Mr. Cecelski has given us a piece of history long forgotten. And, in doing so, he has underscored the importance of the role which African-Americans played in taking their first steps toward obtaining their own freedom.

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