Dozens of people including local dignitaries celebrated the dedication of a historical marker Monday in Danville.
State Rep. Mike Harmon, Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney and Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad were among those who honored the first African-American men allowed to enlist in the Union troops during the Civil War.
When the crowd arrived, Union Col. Andrew Clark initially refused to enlist the men because at the time there was not a policy that allowed the military to recruit slaves.
But while most of the men were indeed slaves, some of them were “free men of color” who wanted to fight for the cause, said Danville resident and civil rights activist James Hunn.
The initial group of 250 men ultimately was permitted to enlist, and only a few local slave owners tried to reclaim some of the men.
The group that marched from Boyle to Jessamine paved the way for more than 5,000 African-American men to be recruited through Camp Nelson. “It is another example of Danville and Boyle County being the ‘city of firsts,’” Hunn said.
Hunn and former Heart of Danville Executive Director Brenda Willoughby were instrumental in raising the funds and securing the permissions needed to erect the marker.
McKinney and Boyle magistrates asked last year if it was appropriate to honor the troops as “colored” on the marker. After consultation with historians and members of the Danville-Boyle County chapter of the NAACP, local officials learned the term was accurate, McKinney said outside the dedication ceremony.
“These men gave everything they had to fight (in the Civil War), and I think that’s important,” McKinney said.
The marker is the 19th dedicated in downtown Danville, according to Stuart Sanders of the Kentucky Historical Society.
“Danville has always done a wonderful job of commemorating their town’s past,” Sanders said during the dedication.