Since 1901 a memorial to Soldiers who had fought for the Confederate States of America in its rebellion against the United States has stood at Hanover Square in downtown Brunswick. It was dedicated that year by United Daughters of the Confederacy. UDC and a broad array of war memorial associations organized by the widows of Confederate Veterans were active as the 19th became the 20th Century in propagating a Lost Cause Narrative to whitewash the history of a rebellion mounted to defend the institution of chattel slavery in our nation. See the video below for background on that story.
By the end of the U.S. Civil War, there were more black troops serving in the blue uniforms of the Union then there were troops serving in the grey uniforms worn by the militias fielded by the states in rebellion. While President Lincoln prosecuted the war to preserve the Union, and Congress instructed the War Department to study the feasibility for repatriating freed, formerly enslaved Africans back to Africa, a Radical Republican Caucus of Congress plotted what Constitutional historians have described as the Second American Revolution. Their slavery abolition bill was veto'd by Lincoln. But they succeeded in creating a Freedman's Bureau (while failing to get it adequately funded). They passed and won ratification to amend the U.S. Constition three times: (1) the 13th (abolition of involuntary servitude), (2) the 14th (natural born citizenship and the Equal Protection of the Law) and (3) the 15th (extending the franchise to Black men). In the 14th Amendment, they managed to impose conditions on the re-entry of rebellious states into the union, denying elective office to those who "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the (nation for whom they had previously served in elective office), or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof".
After the death of Thadeus Stephens and the decline of the Radical Republican Caucus, the 1876 Presidential race resulted in a split Electoral College unable to name the next President. The election was resolved in the House in what we now know as the Compromise of 1877 which effectively ended the Reconstruction era programs and the military occupation of the Confederate South.
Black veterans of the U.S. Civil War, including Glynn County's Robert Smalls were soon forgotten by history rapidly being rewritten with the Lost Cause Narrative. Georgia's original legislative black caucus, including Rev. Henry McNeal Turner and Tunis Campbell (representing the Freedman of Georgia's Gullah-Geechee Coast) were soon ignored. The children of their constituents were soon relegated to 'seperate but (un-)equal' schools in the free universal public education system these public servants had created as their legacy.
Soon after the Compromise of 1877, local and state governments throughout the nation exploited an exception in the 13th Amendment ("except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted"), to enact vagrancy, loitering and related (economic) status crimes. These were used as tools to press into involuntary servitude any idle labor among the black population. Douglas Blackmon has documented some of the history of the convict-lease system, the work camps and chain gangs in his book, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. (PBS documentary). Tunis Campbell was framed and convicted and served two years on a Georgia chain gang. Once free he returned home to his native New Jersey and never returned to Georgia.
Black servicemembers continued to serve in the nation's military. The United States continued to engage in wars of territorial and imperial aggression, including hostilities against the indigenous nations of the North American continent, the was against Spain in the Phillipines. Having campaigned on keeping the nation out of the war, Woodrow Wilson soon sought Congressional support and sent US troops to Europe in World War I. After watching from afar as Nazi Aggression in Europe and Japanese imperialism across Asia, the U.S. would finally send troops both East and West in World War II.
Everytime, the United States went to war, black folks would don the nation's uniform. Recruiters would promise a taste of democratic freedoms for black families who sacrificed for the cause. By 1942, on the heels of US entry into the war, the black community was both challenged and inspired by a letter authored by James G. Thompson published under the title: “Should I Sacrifice to Live ‘Half-American'?" The black owned press throughout the nation collaborated with the US War Department in its recruitment campaigns marketing a Double-V for Victory campaign: Victory over Fascism Abroad and Victory over Racism At Home. (see video here and Kathleen German's book, Promises of Citizenship: Film Recruitment of African Americans in World War II).
Yet the reality of the outcome failed to live up to the hype. Books like Cameron Whirter's Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America and the research of the Equal Justice Initiative (see their report: Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans, local copy) have documented the ways in which white America has responded to black veterans so 'uppity' as to wear the nation's uniform, much less to expect to participate in the democratic liberties for which they fought.
In Glynn County Georgia, the local chain gang was operated out of the Aquilla Plantation. Organized in the immediate aftermath of the end of reconstruction, the Aquilla Plantation continued in operation until the mid-20th Century, even after black veterans had returned from battlefields in Europe and the South Pacific. In 1947, inmates housed on the Plantation refused to go to work in a snake-infested ditch. For their troubles, eight inmates were lynched. The resulting controversy led to the long-overdue closing of the local chain gang operation. It was a significant, yet incomplete victory.
Marshes of Glynn GI Club was formed
It was in this context that black veterans of combat in World War I, World War II and US occupation of the Korean Peninsula organized themselves as the Marshes of Glynn GI Club. These US combat veterans understood that no one, including the government they had served were going to honor their service. So they chose to honor one another instead. In 1951 they erected a black grave stone. The monument was dedicated in a service which drew as spectators, the participation of local congregations and community members.
Reverend Zack Lyde, at twelve years of age, was at that 1951 dedication ceremony with his family's congregation. In 1985, after returning to the community following his own stint of military service (including deployments to the US occupation of Vietnam), he found that stone laying face-down flat on the ground. Zack agitated for the Brunswick Housing Authority to make right the vandalized tribute. As a result, they erected the monument which now stands on the site of the proposed Situation Park. That story is recounted in an August 2020 article in the local paper (local copy).