Scholars have detailed how Black activists looked to public forums to secure Black soldiers’ valor in American memory following the Civil War. This article reveals that they were not the only operators preserving African Americans’ wartime contributions. Rather than gravitating toward orations or monuments like other prominent activists, William Wells Brown and Frances Rollin turned to the power of history during Reconstruction. Drawing together trends of antebellum historical writing and nationalism among African American intellectuals and leaders, Brown and Rollin constructed heroic, textual accounts of Black Civil War soldiers. Brown contended that the soldiers were crucial not only to abolition but also to rescuing the Union. With his The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867), Brown contributed to a more inclusive version of American nationalism. Rollin added an ethnographic argument, crafting a muscular retelling of Martin Delany's wartime service. Rollin's Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany (1868) affirmed Black pride and annulled burgeoning racial tropes. As a result, by the 1870s, Brown and Rollin helped assure African Americans a place in the body politic and crafted an enduring symbol—the Black badge of courage—that cemented military service as a central theme of Black historical writing.

You do not currently have access to this content.