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Race, Identity, and the Struggle Against Discrimination in the US Navy

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 @ 7:00 pm


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Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration Forum

Sponsored by National Capital Bank

From Doris “Dorie” Miller to Benjamin Drummond: An in-depth conversation featuring eminent historians Dr. Regina T. Akers & Dr. Edward Valentin Jr. Moderated by Dr. Joseph P. Reidy

African Americans served in the Continental Navy and the Royal Navy during the American Revolutionary War. In every subsequent war the United States engaged in, African Americans served in the US Navy. However, they were not always a welcomed presence. There were intervals when African Americans’ participation was numerically limited and, at times, outright banned. Despite that, they continued to claim space, contribute to, and maintain a constant presence in the US Navy. Like Benjamin Drummond and Doris “Dorie” Miller, African Americans served and continue to serve with distinction.

Dr. Regina T. Akers is a native of Washington, DC. She received her Bachelors in U.S. History from The Catholic University of America, receiving both her Masters and Doctorate in U.S. and Public History from Howard University. She is a member of the Public History and EducationSection in the Histories Branch at Naval History and Heritage Command, where she has served as an archivist and historian since 1987. She enjoys a national reputation as a subject matter expert on diversity and personnel issues in the United States military with an emphasis on women and African Americans in the Navy. She served as the first chair of the Command’s Senior Historians Advisory Committee and the Command’s oral history team lead. Her publications include The Navy’s First Enlisted Women: Patriotic Pioneers (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2019). She is a co-author of United States Navy: Oral History Guide. She has presented at a myriad of symposia ranging from the Wilson Center to the National Archives, and she has given numerous media interviews.

Her prestigious assignments include the African American Civil War Sailors Project, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Task Force, and the advisory committee supporting a Congressional effort to establish a women’s history museum on the National Mall. She is also a key contributor to the Pentagon’s African American Corridor Renovation Project. She is the 2020 Forrest Pogue Award co-recipient for outstanding career achievements in oral history.

Dr. Edward Valentin Jr. received his Bachelor of Science in history from the United States Military Academy in 2010 and his doctorate in history from Rice University in May 2020. In 2016, Edward began working at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas as an assistant curator. Since July 2020, Edward has worked as a curator at the National Museum of the United States Navy. His research focuses on race and identity in the U.S. military, and his work appears in Civil War History. He is currently working on his book manuscript, Black Men in Army Blue: Race, Citizenship, and Military Occupation, 1866-1900, under contract with the University of Virginia Press.

Dr. Joseph P. Reidy is an emeritus professor of history at Howard University, where he taught history and served in various administrative positions from 1984 until his retirement in 2017. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Villanova University and both the master’s and doctoral degrees from Northern Illinois University, specializing in nineteenth-century United States history. From 1977 to 1984 he was an editor with the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, College Park, working on the first four volumes in the multiple award-winning series titled Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 (4 volumes; Cambridge University Press, 1982-1993). He collaborated with the other editors on the project to produce three other studies of Civil War emancipation, one of which, Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (The New Press, 1992), was awarded the Lincoln Prize in 1994.

He is also the author of From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800-1880 (University of North Carolina Press, 1992). His many articles and chapters on the Civil War era include the influential overview of the experience of black sailors in the U.S. Navy, “Black Men in Navy Blue during the Civil War,” which appeared in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration in Fall 2001. His most recent book, Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2019, was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize by Columbia University and the John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History by the University of Virginia; the book was also a finalist for the Lincoln Prize. Dr. Reidy currently serves as president of the Southern Historical Association.

We look forward forward to welcoming these brilliant historians to Hill Center for what promises to be an enthralling conversation.

Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration

Now in its 8th year, Hill Center’s Benjamin Drummond series honors America’s first liberated enslaved people with scholarly and celebratory programs that bring together a diverse group of prominent experts, artists, and public figures throughout the year to explore the Civil War and its aftermath from the African American perspective. Named for the Old Naval Hospital’s first patient, a young African American seaman taken prisoner by Confederated ships, Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration marks 160 years since President Abraham Lincoln signed The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which freed DC’s over 3000 enslaved people nearly nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation. Read these January 15, 2009 Remarks about Benjamin Drummond Made by Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The event will be in-person at Hill Center and streamed live via Zoom. 

Hill Center is dedicated to making our programming equitable and accessible to all. If cost, accessibility, or other obstacles are a barrier to attending a program, please contact programs@hillcenterdc.org and we will be happy to work out a solution.

The Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration series is made possible by National Capital Bank, DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Capitol Hill Community Foundation.





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Tuesday, April 11, 2023
7:00 pm
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921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
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