Sunday afternoon at the historic Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church in Salem City, NJ the 10th annual John Stewart Rock Memorial lecture took place. The speaker, Andrew R. Coldren, curator of the county historical society, presented “The United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Salem County.”
Andrew expertly guided the audience through the history of African-American Civil War Troops from Salem County in a most informative and engaging lecture. Along the way he examined shifting national policies as the war dragged on while also sharing the story of the contributions of local African-Americans who volunteered to fight for freedom.
Once he wrapped up his formal remarks everyone had a clearer understanding of the military contributions, but the engaged crowd wanted more. Hands kept popping up with additional questions for the knowledgeable military historian. But as the afternoon was winding down, the program had to come to an end and the minister finally stepped forward with a closing prayer while the choir shared a final musical selection.
The congregation prepared light refreshments so there was another chance to chat and talk with the speaker. The strong interest wasn’t diminished yet as people huddled around the popular speaker, peppering him with more questions.
“The lecture commemorates the life of abolitionist John Stewart Rock (1826-1866), teacher healer, counselor. Born in Salem County, Rock was a black abolitionist of national prominence. . . . He was the first African American to be admitted to the Bar of the Untied States Supreme Court,” the Salem Sunbeam reports.
It was a most informative lecture on the USCT, addressing the overarching history of the role of blacks in the Civil War and the local narrative from Salem County’s past. Thank you Andrew and Salem County Historical Society for this expertly presented program.
At one point during the question and answer session, a member of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. mentioned the efforts that were recently completed to honor Civil War veterans buried in the church cemetery, which is about two miles down the road. On our way out of town we visited the old burial ground, walking through the quiet ground where so many veterans from that era are interred, including sailors in the United States Navy.