A New Birth of Freedom

Honoring Those Who Served, are Serving and are yet to Serve

A Proposal to the NAACP National Leadership, Prepared by Cleo C. Pruitt


The NAACP’s National Convention in Milwaukee, July 2005, can make a substantial contribution to the renaissance of its host city by sponsoring a tribute to the great multitude of unrecognized African American and other minority veterans buried at Wood National Cemetery. They are among those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” that this nation “shall have a new birth of freedom,” described by President Abraham Lincoln of Civil War dead at Gettysburg. A dedication at the Soldiers Home in Milwaukee county would draw to the NAACP new membership from among students and citizens whose work best illuminates hope as the fruit of the sacrifices given.


The Milwaukee Soldiers Home is located in the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 150 acres of land. It boasts 25 Civil War period buildings — the Ward Memorial Theater, a the Home Chapel, Wood National Cemetery, veteran’s hospital, Old Main, Wadsworth Library, 19 are residential and administrative buildings. There are 37,000 soldiers buried in the cemetery from the Civil War era to the present day conflicts. Members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African American regiment recruited in the North as well as Buffalo Soldiers, who served in the West after the Civil War are buried at Wood National Cemetery. Thousands more African Americans and other soldiers of color are at rest, many are unidentified as persons of color.

Milwaukee’s Soldiers Home was established in 1867, and with all such facilities, was developed initially to support post-Civil War “volunteer” unpaid military personnel, “wounded/ disabled” military only – by providing a health care facility (hospital), residential quarters, dining halls, entertainment facilities (theater), a chapel, burial services and cemetery. Training and employment services, as well as, government established “enterprises” – factories, manufacturing enterprises (printing, etc.) were created for care, dignity and retraining of soldiers. The same concept is in place today in the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy. Those “enterprises” also provided employment opportunities. There is photographic evidence and documentation that African American soldiers were at teh Milwaukee Home, and were buried there.

An act of the 37th Congress approved by President Lincoln on July 17, 1862 provided for the establishment of National Cemeteries “for the soldiers who shall die in service of the country.” The Milwaukee Soldiers Home was one of the first three designated as the result of legislation signed by by President Abraham Lincoln for volunteer soldiers’ relief following the Civil War. The Wisconsin Soldiers Home became a branch of the National Home. In his many writings and speeches and most notably in the “I Have a Dream” address, Dr. Martin Luther King echoed a President Lincoln’s challenge to all Americans to complete “the unfinished work” as expressed at the Gettysburg dedication November 19, 1863. Each man referred to the words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a source for promises to keep.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion, — that we were highly resolve that the dead shall have not died in vain, that this nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth, Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg Words that Remade America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

In King’s address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963 he stated:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation… But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free… Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy… Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children, Congressional Record, 88th Congress, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963.

These two great American orators are linked in common tribute to equality of rights and dignity for all. The NAACP took up this same charge during its nearly 100 years of socialist activism to protect the rights of democracy for minority groups and citizens. Further, through the creation of its Armed Services and Veterans Affairs division, the NAACP monitored military policy and practices to guarantee equal opportunity for African Americans and other minority military veterans, active duty service men and women, and for their families, descendants. For over thirty years the National Association for Black Veterans, Inc. has served as advocate for African American and other military personnel of color.

Who We Are

The Bridge Works is a coalition of students, citizens, merchants, neighborhood and community associations, and their community press from across the city of Milwaukee. The core leadership is composed of Milwaukee activists passionate about the protection of civil rights under the law for all people (see Addenda I for biographies).



Our mission is to honor all those military personnel who have served with a special focus on those too easily forgotten – African Americans and other minorities – are serving and will serve. As we honor these military personnel for their important contribution, we honor their civilian families, descendants and communities opening recognition for them.


Our goal is two-pronged: First to identify and honor those African American and other minority military buried in the Wood National Cemetery from all wars except the Revolutionary War forward. Second to be actively involved in saving the 150 acre site which currently has – or is the process of gaining – “historic preservation” designation(s). At present there are 25 buildings dating back to the Civil War, one of which already has historic site designations.


Our vision is to establish a modern-day mixed-use community. As in the Soldiers Home’s earliest inception we propose creation of an economically viable “village” that would include various businesses, training facilities, an artist district, and a residential community.

NAACP Collaboration – Local and National

We are seeking the NAACP’s support and collaboration during the July 2005 convention to consecrate these grounds anew and pay homage to all the men and women of color who have served and are serving in the military going back to the Revolutionary War through today’s personnel in the Middle East and Far East (Korea).


  • To dramatize the vision passed from President Lincoln to Dr. King during a dedication at Soldiers Home with the presence of NAACP leadership, delegates, local and national military personnel, descendants, civil rights leaders that could include Secretary Colin Powell, Private Shoshona Johnson a former Iraqi POW, veterans, current service men and women, members of Dr. King’s family, etc., the governor of Wisconsin, elected officials, south eastern Wisconsin residents, business leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, health and social service providers, neighborhood associations, school children and their families to inform and inspire hope.
  • To access the oral history and identity of African Americans and other minority veterans and service men and women from friends, neighbors, family, descendants and organizations
  • To retell those histories to broader audiences wherever Wisconsinites and others retrieve information that edifies, encourages and shows respect
  • To provide African Americans and other minorities a social and economic chance for training, legal redress, jobs, ventures, housing, and ways to contribute
  • To create a symbolic act that confers honor and dignity
  • To give an occasion to those previously unborn or unprepared to participate in a modern day civil rights demonstration collectively affirming just behavior
  • To achieve spiritual and economic growth in Milwaukee and model solutions to issues important for the broader civil society

The Scope of Work

The services we offer as hosts to the NAACP delegates and for the dedication ceremony are as follows:

  • To organize and produce a one and a half to two hour dedication program with support for an outdoor setting and arranging for transportation
  • To organize food and arts vendors
  • To secure protocol and complete transaction for Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech bronzed and mounted on a boulder and placed next to the bronzed President Lincoln Gettysburg address at the Soldiers Home
  • To assist with local membership and recruitment drives among students and citizens reaching especially African Americans and other minorities where they gather – neighborhood associations, day care centers, social centers, churches, community press and through a designated Internet group server
  • To assist with identification, development of oral histories, retrieval of photos for African American veterans of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and subsequent wars who are buried at Wood National Cemetery
  • To raise funds as needed


The opportunity currently before us is to use the implicit call for support for military personnel serving and yet to serve to heal old wounds of racial dissonance to bind the peoples of the Milwaukee community, the State of Wisconsin, the Midwest region, and national NAACP delegates to strengthen understanding, facilitate creativity, redemption and goodwill for all Americans.

We Bridge Works group thank you for opening your planning process to a local initiative. We seek your endorsement and collaboration for the dedication service honoring those who served, are serving and yet to serve, to identify unknown African American and other minority war dead buried at Wood National Cemetery, and to raise funds for our intended work. We want you to be aware of our vision for a “village” on the Soldiers Home grounds once vibrant with service and enterprise and ask you to lend support to our effort, as you deem appropriate.

Soldiers Home Tour & Presentation To NAACP Blue Ribbon Advisory Board
By The Community Alliance Group December 3, 2004

Walking Tour

Old Main
Lincoln Gettysburg Monument
Ward Memorial Theater
Home Chapel

Wadsworth Library
Post Office
Recreation Center
Residential Buildings

Description of Project

History – Sandy Folaron
Soldiers Home Board
Facilitating Support for Transition
Preservation of Buildings

Community Engagement – James J. Godsil
Neighborhood & Community Associations
Civic and Business Leaders
Internet Links

NAACP Collaboration – Cleo C. Pruitt
Dedication Service – Honoring Service Men and Women
Identify soldiers and their oral histories
Articulate vision for a “village”

Last edited by Cleo - Tegan transcribed. Based on work by TeganDowling.  Page last modified on April 18, 2005

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