Correspondence Shows New Jersey First State to Integrate
SEA GIRT, N.J. – Now through February 28, the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey (NGMMNJ) will open a Black History Month exhibit celebrating the service of New Jersey’s African-American soldiers and airmen. From the American Revolution forward, "Leading the Charge: African-Americans in the New Jersey National Guard" will highlight over two centuries of African-American service through art, photographs, primary source correspondence, and video excerpts from the museum’s award-winning Center for U.S. Veterans’ Oral Histories.
Notable among New Jersey firsts, the state National Guard was the first component of the U.S. Armed Forces to racially integrate. In February 1948, several months prior to President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981, New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll ignored federal policy mandating segregation and ordered the full integration of the National Guard. The exhibit features correspondence between Governor Driscoll, Army Secretary Kenneth Royall, and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal’s office.
“The Driscoll letters were a significant find,” said Capt. Vincent Solomeno, museum curator and command historian. “They reveal an interesting back and forth between Trenton and Washington over what Governor Driscoll saw as a constitutional and moral obligation to integrate. As a consequence of his leadership, New Jersey became the first component of the entire U.S. Armed Forces to end segregation.”
In addition, the exhibit highlights the experience of the 22nd U.S. Colored Infantry, mostly comprised of African-American New Jerseyans. The 22nd fought in the Civil War and led a decisive charge at Petersburg, Virginia in June, 1864. That attack is depicted by local artist Peter Culos and featured in the exhibit.
"Leading the Charge: African-Americans in the New Jersey National Guard" is open until February 28 at the National Guard Militia Museum in Sea Girt. The museum is open seven days a week from 10:00AM – 3:00PM. For more information, please visit the NGMMNJ web site at http://www.state.nj.us/military/museum/ or call (732) 974-5966.