Book Review: The Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas, 1864-1901


by Roger D. Cunningham

Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2008. Pp. xix, 206. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN:0826218075

Although in colonial times black men were sometimes permitted -- even obligated -- to serve in the militia, by the early nineteenth century service by black men was quite unusual, except occasionally in wilder frontier areas.  Then came the Civil War.

In The Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas, 1864-1901, retired U.S. Army officer Roger D. Cunningham, addresses the little-studied, even less-know subject of the role of African-Americans in the militia in the late nineteenth century, focused on Kansas, one of the handful of states that permitted black men to serve. 

Cunningham begins by providing some background on the men who served, noting that initially many were veterans of the Civil War. He follows their experiences through the decades of peace that followed, during which black militiamen performed essentially the same services that their white comrades did, riot control, flood relief, and so forth, and carries the story on into the war with Spain, during which some black militiamen saw service as volunteers, primarily on occupation duty. Discussing the reasons that prompted black men to organize militia units, Cunningham also looks at their struggles with an often bigoted militia and political establishment, and explains the benefits militia service brought to these men and their community, by providing role models, prestige, and social participation.

The Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas not only fills an important gap in the history of military service by African Americans, but also gives us a clearer picture of the role of the militia in American life

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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