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Ridge Revolution anniversary highlights black history • Brooklyn Paper

Ridge Revolution anniversary highlights black history

True patriots: Robert Williams and Ludger K. Balan teach people about America’s first integrated military unity — “Col. Glover’s Marbleheaders” — who were instrumental during the American Revolution’s Battle of Brooklyn, celebrated at the 69th Street Pier on Aug. 22.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

It was America’s original Rainbow Coalition.

Historians highlighted African-Americans’ contributions to the U.S. Revolutionary War effort while celebrating the 239th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn at the Veterans Memorial Pier in Bay Ridge on Aug. 22.

The war’s most famous generals live on in statues and place-names scattered throughout the borough. But black soldiers such as those of “Glover’s Marbleheaders” — one of America’s first racially integrated fighting forces — go largely unremembered, even though they played an integral role, a historian said.

“They were the unsung heroes of the American Revolution,” said Ludger Ballan, a re-enactor and historian with historical group Sable Soldiers of the American Revolution. “They were pretty central in helping General Washington’s army getting safe passage across the East River.”

British troops and German mercenaries kicked off the Battle of Brooklyn when they landed at Denyse Wharf on Aug. 22, 1776 — a mere two-mile march from the pier where historians told their story on Saturday. British troops routed Washington’s men and forced the future first president and the remnants of his army to beat a dangerous retreat across the river to Manhattan under cover of darkness, with the help of John Glover’s “web-footed Marbleheaders” — so called for their maritime skills.

But it wasn’t muskets and mastheads last weekend. Historians sang sea chanties and played games with kids during the event, which was organized by the Waterfront Alliance, the Parks Department, and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge).

A demonstration of how colonists ground tea leaves drew crowds of interested kids who wanted to roll up their sleeves and touch history, another historian said.

“I do a lot with children — usually because I’m doing an interactive display,” said Michelle Swindell, another member of Sable.

And keeping kids interested is key, because they may not learn this history anywhere else — Swindell sure didn’t, she said.

“The history that we are teaching — black history — some of the things I didn’t even know before I joined,” Swindell said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Eye for fashion: Dressed in period get-up, Jacques Bettig demonstrates how to use an old-timey spyglass.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

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