Floyd Washington, my great grandfather, was born in about 1845, enslaved in Alabama. Upon making it to Louisiana, he took up arms against the Confederacy, with the 76th Infantry, U.S. Colored Division. Local citizens complained in an 1865 Shreveport Times petition about “the insolent bearing of the colored troops.” But Colonel Charles W. Drew, their commander, gave this report: “I cannot speak in terms of too much praise of the officers and men of my command.” In one important battle, Adjutant General S.B. Ferguson reported that the 76th Infantry engaged Confederate troops, “charging like mad.”
Remembering this battle helps me as I think of the current battle we all face against today’s racial injustice. The black military men in this battle didn’t retreat even though they knew that many considered them less important because of the color of their skin. They knew the work they needed to do and how they must push forward and not give up. That is how I feel today and how I have always felt as a black lawyer. I am the first black partner at Kirkland, and am excited that I do not stand alone anymore in these ranks. But I also know there is more work to be done within the legal community. Retreat is not an option.
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