3rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment Philadelphia Band Honors Juneteenth

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The 3rd US Colored Infantry Regiment re-enactment band performed at several events downtown in honor of Juneteenth.

After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, more than 200,000 African American men were allowed to enlist in the Civil War. In Cheltenham Township, Camp William Penn housed the Third Regiment of United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Eleven thousand men resided in this camp which consisted of 11 regiments from Philadelphia and New Jersey. A regiment was usually made up of around 1,000 men, according to the North Carolina Museum of History.

“We have the names of each of them, their regiment, their company.” Albert El, a participant in the reenactment, said.

El and other reenactors began their events by raising the June 19 flag at the Betsy Ross house, followed by another display at the African American Museum. Throughout the day, all of the cast stopped and spoke to Philadelphians who were unaware of the band’s history.

“I learned that colored troops had a flag to represent them. It was very educational,” said Yvonne Sawyer of West Philadelphia.

The “colored” flag that Sawyer was referring to was one of several USCT flags, representing the third of various regiments. El says these flags are placed on the graves of every serviceman.

“A lot of people don’t know that,” he said. “It’s done out of respect for them, and so people can’t ignore who they were or what they did.”

Sawyer says she saw the group when she went to a June 19 parade in 2019 and wanted to know more about who they were.

“We never really get to learn our history. Pass your history on to your children. We have history all over the United States, and people just don’t know. I’m still learning,” a- she declared.

Since Juneteenth was an important date in the American timeline, El says everyone should know more than just the importance of this infantry and its impact, but also their own family history.

“Look who your grandparents are and who your great-grandparents were,” he said. “A lot of times they have pictures on the wall and say, ‘That’s my great-grandfather on the wall, and he served,’ and that’s it. That’s all it will be.”

This holiday allowed people like El to honor what their ancestors had accomplished. For these reenactment attendees, celebrating June 19 means recognizing the African American men who fought for a country that barely recognized them as a people.

“Our story is here. Look no further. It’s here. Look within,” El said.

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