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The black men of the Civil War were America’s original ‘dreamers’

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Today, a wall looms large in my thoughts. It isn’t the structure President Trump has in mind for our southern border. I’m thinking of the Wall of Honor at the African American Civil War Memorial, located at Vermont Avenue and 10th and U Streets NW.

Listed on the wall are the names of 209,145 U.S. Colored Troops who fought during the American Civil War. One of those names is that of Isaiah King, my great-grandfather.

I think of those courageous black men as America’s original “dreamers.”

Today’s dreamers are in their teens and 20s, having arrived in this country as children. King’s generation of dreamers were former slaves or descendants of slaves brought to these shores against their will.

However, the black men who fought in the Civil War had the same status as today’s dreamers: noncitizens without a discernable path to citizenship.

Like dreamers of today, those black soldiers and sailors also had families and attended churches; some were enrolled in schools. They could dream of a future, anchored in the rights and privileges that come with democracy. But they had no legal claim to an existence within America’s borders.

My great-grandfather was born in the slave-holding city of Washington in 1848, but his mother was a freed woman. She moved the family to New Bedford, Mass., when he was 4. Around the time of his 17th birthday, Isaiah King enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts........

© Washington Post