Forgotten WWI Soldiers

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WWI AFRICAN AMERICAN SOLDIERS

TO BE HONORED

World War I saw men and women across the United States enlist for military service to fight in “the war to end all wars.” The “Doughboys” headed overseas, most for the first time in their lives, and even though America’s involvement in World War I was relatively short, thousands of young men died as a direct result of their military service either from disease, accident or combat.

This included young men from Spalding County. Young farmers, laborers and
businessmen volunteered or were drafted in 1917 and 1918. Many of them shipped out to France as a part of the American Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately some of those young men from here did not come home alive.

After the war a grateful community installed a handsome bronze and granite
monument , now located in Veterans Memorial Park, memorializing all the young men from Spalding County who went away to fight and lost their lives accordingly. Or so it was thought.

However, recent research about WWI soldiers by Griffin’s archivist and students from
Gordon State College in conjunction with ongoing projects by local committee Honor
Our KIA Committee has confirmed a startling and unsettling discovery.

Twenty-two young men from this county who died from disease, accident or combat
while in service during WWI are listed on that monument. All twenty two were white. But surprisingly at least eleven other young men from this county who died under the same circumstances while in service during WWI are not listed there. All eleven were African Americans.

On learning of this situation Quimby Melton III, chairman of Honor Our KIA, commented: “Men who served and died in the same way while defending our Country deserve no less than to be honored in the same way. Clearly it couldn’t happen today, but that should be very little consolation to anyone who believes that we owe a duty to recognize, remember and honor everyone equally who died as a result of serving in our armed services during times of war regardless of their sex, religion or race.”

The researchers credited with discovering these details include Griffin Archivist Cynthia Barton and Gordon State College students Bruno Trottier and Jennifer Bailey under the direction of Dr. Tom Aiello, head of the college’s History and Political Science Department. Melton praised the team: “To confirm their original suspicions, they scavenged through old census documents, obscure city, state and federal records and family histories, many of which were over one hundred years old. Then they checked and cross checked what they found. It was a remarkable piece of detective work without which the uncomfortable truth of this predicament could well have remained a secret forever. Or possibly forever.” Melton also acknowledged the support for this project by Griffin Mayor Dick Morrow: “Without Dick’s encouragement this investigation would
never have gotten off the ground.”

The names and basic information uncovered so far about these men include

PVT Floyd Anderson, U.S. Army, DOB June 1, 1896 – DOD Oct. 27, 1918
PVT Wilber Barlow, U.S. Army, DOB April 19, 1893 – DOD Oct. 23, 1918
PVT Rufus Graham, U.S. Army, DOB 1895 – DOD Nov. 13, 1918
PVT Edd Hammond, U.S. Army, DOB July 26, 1894 – DOD Oct. 1, 1918
PVT James Phillips, U.S. Army, DOB Dec. 6, 1894 – DOD Oct. 13, 1918
SGT James Proctor, U.S. Army, DOB 1895 – DOD June 18, 1918
PFC Penia Roberts, U.S.Army, DOB Feb.15, 1897 – DOD Dec. 30, 1918
PVT Alvertis Smith, U.S. Army, DOB Feb. 25, 1896 – DOD Oct 10, 1918
PVT James Touchstone, U.S. Army, DOB July 25, 1895 – DOD Oct. 26, 1918
PVT. Eugene Tuggle, U.S. Army, DOB Sept. 2, 1892 – DOD Sept. 7, 1918
PFC Albert Wimbish, U.S. Army, DOB 1893 – DOD Dec. 14, 1918.

Spalding County is fortunate to have a local committee, Honor Our KIA , currently
actively engaged in honoring men and women from this County who died in service
from WWI to the present. It is poised to move quickly to give these young men the
recognition they have for so long been denied at their May 29th Memorial Weekend
ceremony.

Melton said, “Obviously it’s impossible now to go back and undo the slight these young men and their families suffered, but we’re proud to be a part of the effort to insure they will now receive the recognition they deserve. Accordingly, Honor Our KIA will soon include their biographies on our website www.honorourkia.org and in May we’ll install individual bronzes plaques and QR Codes on buildings downtown recognizing each of these hometown heroes.”

Anyone with any information at all about these young men should contact Honor Our KIA at 770-468-9511 as quickly as possible.

Melton added, “Our committee hopes that this revelation and our community’s
response will encourage other cities to similarly investigate their own memorials and, where necessary, move aggressively to make any corrections that are appropriate.”

Penia Roberts speech

HONOR OUR KIA CEREMONY

MAY 29, 2016

We all make mistakes as individuals and Collectively as Communities. Hopefully we sometimes have the chance to correct those mistakes. Very rarely however does that opportunity come along a century later. Fortunately today is one of those rare occasions.

As a direct result of her own inquisitive mind and the encouragement of Mayor Dick Morrow, the Military Affairs Committee and Honor Our KIA, Griffin archivist Cynthia Barton, in the course of her intensive research for this project confirmed that in addition to the 22 young men memorialized on our handsome WWI monument, 15 other local men who did not survive that war are NOT recognized there or anywhere else.

All 22 of the men named on that monument were white as were 3 of those lost 15 – so the fact of the omission of those 3 can be reasonably attributed to an unfortunate oversight.

BUT the 12 remaining forgotten heroes, we now know, represent all the African American soldiers from Spalding County who died in service in that same war and their sacrifice remains unacknowledged on that monument or anywhere else.

A fact that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be attributed to an careless error.

The circumstances are as obvious as they are disturbing. Our young African American soldiers were systematically omitted from their legitimate place of honor on our monument.

BUT as shocking as it is that young men who answered our nations call to arms and as a direct result lost their lives could have been treated thusly it is not our intention here to render judgment on our ancestors.

Instead it is rather the purpose of Honor Our KIA today and the Military Affairs Committee tomorrow to redress the injustice suffered by these men and their families and, to the extent humanly possible to do so, render unto them the recognition and honor that they have been denied for so long.The young men you are about to meet did not die heroic deaths in battle. Like the majority of men locally and nationally who didn’t

come home home alive, they died of what was commonly then called “pneumonia”, what was later identified as the “Spanish Flu”.

During WWI 53,000 American soldiers died of battle related wounds. 63,000 men died from the Spanish Flu both here and overseas. In October 1918, the month before the war ended our soldiers were dying from influenza at the rate of 4,000 a Week!

And those who did die of that dread disease have from that day to this been recognized not only, on our local monuments in Memorial Park but universally as lost heroes who sacrificed their lives for our nation just as Surely as had they been killed by a German bullet.

Sadly their families have now moved away or died out and written records about these young men are for all practical purposes non existent. As a result we know almost nothing about them

*** which is exactly the reason Honor Our KIA is dedicated to preserving the memory of our honored dead for future generations in a more lasting and meaningful way but be that as it may ***

We are lucky today that there is one exception and I suggest we use his story as emblematic of the lives of all these young African American soldiers.

Different in detail of course but in broad parameters – the same.

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS PENA ROBERTS WAS BORN THE GREAT GRANDSON OF A SLAVE OWNER AND A SLAVE WOMAN IN A SMALL ENCLAVE OF HOMES BETWEEN ZEBULON AND CONCORD KNOWN THEN AND NOW AS ROBERTS QUARTERS.

HIS PROLIFIC PARENTS EDWARD AND REBECCA RAISED 14 CHILDREN THERE – FOUR BOYS, INCLUDING PENIA THE OLDEST AND 10 GIRLS. IMAGINE THAT THEN – OR TODAY!

DURING EARLIER DAYS ON THE PLANTATION JUDGE VINCENT ROBERTS ALLOWED HIS SLAVES TO WORSHIP FIRST IN A BRUSH ARBOR AND THEN IN A SHED ON HIS PROPERTY AND LATER HE AND A NEIGHBOR DONATED THE LAND WHERE A SMALL CHURCH WAS BUILT AND WHERE IT STANDS TODAY. MAINTAINED BY AN ACTIVE CONGREGATION AS ROBERTS CHAPEL.

HIS GRANDFATHER WAS THE FIRST TRUSTEE OF THIS CHURCH AND IT WAS THERE THAT PENIA WORSHIPED AS A CHILD AND YOUNG MAN AND THERE, WHEN IT DOUBLED AS A ONE ROOM SCHOOL HOUSE, HE RECEIVED HIS RUDIMENTARY EDUCATION.

PENIA SPENT HIS TEEN YEARS AS A FARM HAND ON HIS GRANDFATHERS AND FATHERS LAND. OTHERWISE LITTLE IS KNOWN OF HIS ACTIVITIES AS A YOUNG ADULT BUT OUR RESEARCH TELLS US THAT DURING THAT TIME HE MARRIED A WOMAN FROM MACON NAMED MARY. WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY AFTER PENIAS DEATH IS A MYSTERY.

HE WAS DRAFTED AND SUBSEQUENTLY ON DECEMBER 3OTH 1918 WHILE SERVING WITH THE ARMY IN FRANCE, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS PENIA ROBERTS DIED, A VICTIM OF THE SPANISH FLU, ROUGHLY FIVE WEEKS AFTER THE WAR ENDED.

HIS BODY WAS EVENTUALLY RETURNED HERE AND NOW RESTS BENEATH A HANDSOME HEADSTONE ONLY A FEW FEET FROM THE LITTLE CHURCH HE KNEW SO WELL IN ROBERTS CRUARTERS.

NOW WANT TO INTRODUCE SOME SPECIAL GUESTS – WILL THE MEMBERS OF PVT. PENA ROBERTS EXTENDED FAMILY PLEASE STAND.

PARTICULARLY – I WANT TO RECOGNIZE MS. SUSAN CHANEY – WILL YOU RAISE YOUR HAND.

CHANEY’S GRANDMOTHER WAS A SISTER TO PENA ROBERTS. REMARKABLY MS. CHANEY LIVES TODAY IN THE SELF SAME ENCLAVE OF ROBERT’S QUARTERS, LESS THAN A HALF MILE FROM ROBERTS CHAPEL WHERE SHE, AS A LAY PASTOR, SOMETIMES CONDUCTS REVIVALS.

TALK ABOUT A FAMILY WITH DEEP ROOTS. FROM PRAYNG UNDER A BRUSH ARBOR 150 YEARS AGO AS SLAVES TO PASTORING TODAY AT THE SAME SMALL CHURCH ESTABLISHED BY HER ANCESTORS.

PENIA ROBERTS WOULD BE VERY, VERY PROUD.

WISH WE COULD TELL YOU AS MUCH ABOUT OUR OTHER “FORGOTTEN” AFRICAN AMERICAN SOLDIERS BUT WE CAN’T – HERE’S WHAT WE DO KNOW.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN URGE YOU TO CONTEMPLATE WHAT YOU SEE AND HEAR HERE TODAY AND EMBRACE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO BRING US TOGETHER A SA COMMUNITY, UNITED IN NEWFOUND RESPECT FOR ALL OUR LOST HEROES – BLACK AND WHITE – WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES SO THAT WE MIGHT ENJOY THE PRIVILEGE OF LIVING AS FREEMEN AND FREE WOMEN IN THIS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.

THANK YOU.

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