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Gathering honors African-American soldiers from Civil War

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by Justina Wang
Democrat and Chronicle

More than a century after Thomas E. Platner died, a dozen sets of hands clasped around his grave to honor a life that never made it into the history books.

“Thomas E. Platner,” called out Megan L. Roberts of Rochester, a freshman at the University of Rochester, “You were just 17 when on March 10, 1853, you answered like a man.”

Believed to be a soldier in the United States Colored Troops, long-ago Rochester resident Platner was buried at Riverside Cemetery on Lake Avenue, but his headstone wasn’t discovered until 2007 by Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Saturday morning, members of the Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission gathered the reverent beside Platner’s grave for the fourth annual commemoration of black Civil War soldiers.

About a dozen onlookers held their hats and flags as five men and one woman in navy blue uniforms marched through the cemetery and fired replica rifles to honor Platner and the thousands of other African-American soldiers who fought for their own freedom.

“These guys sacrificed a lot so those of us who are African American can live large today,” said Mel Reid, a Washington D.C. resident who travels the country in his Navy cap and white gloves to remind Americans of the oft-forgotten Colored Troops. “When we put on this uniform, it’s a way to say ‘Thank you’ to someone who kind of got lost in history.”

As an added ‘Thank you’ to Cathy Williams, an African-American slave who disguised herself as a man to serve as a Buffalo Soldier, Rochester resident Lillie Hurst pulled her hair back and slid on knee-high boots. A veteran stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., Hurst said she wanted to learn about the long history of military women who also are glossed over in Civil War stories.

These reminders of the forgotten pieces of history are lessons for the future, said Rochester resident Marie Parsons.

“We are a nation of minorities,” she said. “We need to honor the people that are part of American heritage that we don’t often think of.”

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Written by Symphony

May 25, 2008 at 6:52 pm

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