Kennesaw's Southern Museum celebrates Black History Month

Feb. 26—KENNESAW — More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, two Union soldiers made camp in downtown Kennesaw over the weekend, raising a single tent and an American flag in the morning mist.

One of the Union soldiers was 67-year-old James Hayes, a longtime volunteer and historical reenactor from Alpharetta. He took part in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History's celebration of Black History Month on Saturday, which included new exhibits, activities and hourly musket demonstrations on the museum's lawn.

Hayes was wearing a reproduction of the Union uniform, and he explained that originals are rare because people assumed they would have little value and continued to wear them after the war.

"The common things that soldiers used are very rare, and the uncommon things are mostly what you see in museums," Hayes said.

Hayes said he shaved his beard for the event to make himself seem a little younger, as most men in the Union army were between the ages of 20 and 30.

Hayes' interest in historical reenactment began when he read an article in the paper about local Civil War reenactors who worked as extras in the 1989 movie "Glory," based on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first Black regiments to serve in the war.

Since then, Hayes has volunteered as a docent and educator, and he stressed the importance of understanding the role of Black people in the history of the country.

"It's such an important part of our history. With it being Black History Month, this is the perfect time for an event like this, because Black history is American history," Hayes said. "And museums like this are great because they tie the whole story together."

Josh Trower, an education coordinator for the museum, was the other Union soldier at the event and led the musket firing drills. Trower helped design the children's activities for the event, which included a quilting activity with information about the artist Harriet Powers, a native Georgian born into slavery whose original quilts told stories with symbols.

"For kids, I think it's great for them to see themselves in history, and to know that they have played a role in this country back to its foundations," Trower said.

Other featured stories included that of Mary Bowser, the ex-slave who served as a spy in the halls of the Confederate government; the "Six Triple Eight," who served in World War II as the first all-Black battalion of the Women's Army Corps; and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an important Black-led union.

Eleven-year-old Savannah and 8-year-old Billy Miles of Marietta built circuits while learning about Lewis Latimer, an inventor who worked alongside Thomas Edison and patented an improved process for manufacturing carbon filaments used in light bulbs. Latimer's parents escaped their enslavers in the South.

"I think it's cool because it's all about a side of history we don't normally get to see. In school, a lot of the people we learn about are white, just because that's who made the curriculum," Savannah Miles said.

Billy Miles said he was interested in technology, so the circuit-building activity was he favorite part of the museum so far. Then, he ran back to his completed circuit to flip the switch again, making the small light bulb glow.