Think of every cavalry charge you’ve ever seen in a Western movie; now think of every time all the troopers in the scene were black. Our national myth-making machinery was programmed to elide the truth about the Buffalo Soldiers, but for some reason it reversed itself in the case of the art student from Greensboro.
Here is a PDF of my O.Henry magazine article on Thomas Reese Alexander, a Buffalo Soldier from Greensboro.
The story turns on incorrect newspaper reporting, yet relies on the same now-suspect papers for many of its facts. I tried to find multiple sources, but of course some of these may have been repeating each other, and it all happened a long time ago. I used original documents where possible and think the published timeline is accurate, but I'd be happy for certain items to have an asterisk. And there's probably more out there -- the fate of Britton/Britten, for example, and maybe some understanding of how this 17-year-old from GSO ended up studying art in New York years before the Harlem Renaissance.
I also pondered the question of cultural appropriation and the ethics of challenging the heroic narrative. And I wrestled with perspective. The main character's voice is missing, and many documents I found were written by officers and scholars who tend to be older and whiter than the Troopers themselves. My own point of view got in the way, and I had to remind myself to imagine the city Reese Alexander left more through his eyes and those of his parents, and less as my great-grandfather might have seen it.
Not done with this subject yet.