Saturday, August 8, 2009

More than just a Sam Adams drinker

Right now C-SPAN is re-airing a July 1 interview with Prof. H.L. Gates of Harvard. To most Americans, Prof. Gates is best known for arguing with a cop and having a recent beer with the president and two white guys.

Gates is obviously a charming man in addition (as one expect of someone appointed Harvard professor) very smart. But what I found moving was his passing reference to his project at Harvard called “the Black Patriots Project”:
Using old-fashioned genealogical sleuthing, the project’s goal is to transform the historical understanding of the African American contribution to the American struggle for independence. As a result of the research conducted by Jane Ailes of Research Consultants, the project has been able to identify 5,000 African Americans by surveying the 80,000 pension applications of Revolutionary War veterans and comparing these names to Federal Census records from 1790 to 1850.
As an academic, I think it’s a clever plan for historical research — matching pension records and Census records. But as an American who loves his country, I think it’s great that we can get real evidence of the patriotism of these men who died and share that with their descendants.

Himself a descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier, Gates joked about how he and his brother went to Texas to be inducted into the Sons of the American Resolution, which now is co-sponsoring the Black Patriots Project.

Gates (in this event that predates his famous Cambridge confrontation) also was stirring in arguing against the (historically recent) poisonous notion that educated blacks are “acting white.” So we have a few areas of agreement, even though I suspect we would pretty quickly disagree when it comes to how (and how much) the Federal government should spend money.

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