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African-American WW I soldiers to be honored

World War I saw men and women across the United States enlist for military service to fight in ‘the war to end all wars.’ The ‘Doughboys’ headed overseas, most for the first time in their lives, and even though America’s involvement in World War I was relatively short, thousands of young men died as a direct result of their military service either from disease, accident or combat. This included young men from Spalding County. Young farmers, laborers and businessmen volunteered or were drafted in 1917 and 1918. Many of them shipped out to France as a part of the American Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately some of those young men from here did not come home alive. After the war a grateful community installed a handsome bronze and granite monument , now located in Veterans Memorial Park, memorializing all the young men from Spalding County who went away to fight and lost their lives accordingly. Or so it was thought. However, recent research about WWI soldiers by Griffin’s archivist and students from Gordon State College in conjunction with ongoing projects by local committee Honor Our KIA Committee has confirmed a startling and unsettling discovery. Twenty-two young men from this county who died from disease, accident or combat while in service during WWI are listed on that monument. All twenty two were white. But surprisingly at least eleven other young men from this county who died under the same circumstances while in service during WWI are not listed there. All eleven were African Americans. On learning of this situation Quimby Melton III, chairman of Honor Our KIA, commented: ‘Men who served and died in the same way while defending our Country deserve no less than to be honored in the same way. Clearly it couldn’t happen today, but that should be very little consolation to anyone who believes that we owe a duty to recognize, remember and honor everyone equally who died as a result of serving in our armed services during times of war regardless of their sex, religion or race.’ The researchers credited with discovering these details include Griffin Archivist Cynthia Barton and Gordon State College students Bruno Trottier and Jennifer Bailey under the direction of Dr. Tom Aiello, head of the college’s History and Political Science Department. Melton praised the team: ‘To confirm their original suspicions, they scavenged through old census documents, obscure city, state and federal records and family histories, many of which were over one hundred years old. Then they checked and cross checked what they found. It was a remarkable piece of detective work without which the uncomfortable truth of this predicament could well have remained a secret forever. Or possibly forever.’ Melton also acknowledged the support for this project by Griffin Mayor Dick Morrow: ‘Without Dick’s encouragement this investigation would never have gotten off the ground.’ The names and basic information uncovered so far about these men include: PVT Floyd Anderson, U.S. Army, DOB June 1, 1896 – DOD Oct. 27, 1918 PVT Wilber Barlow, U.S. Army, DOB April 19, 1893 – DOD Oct. 23, 1918 PVT Rufus Graham, U.S. Army, DOB 1895 – DOD Nov. 13, 1918 PVT Edd Hammond, U.S. Army, DOB July 26, 1894 – DOD Oct. 1, 1918 PVT James Phillips, U.S. Army, DOB Dec. 6, 1894 – DOD Oct. 13, 1918 SGT James Proctor, U.S. Army, DOB 1895 – DOD June 18, 1918 PFC Penia Roberts, U.S.Army, DOB Feb.15, 1897 – DOD Dec. 30, 1918 PVT Alvertis Smith, U.S. Army, DOB Feb. 25, 1896 – DOD Oct 10, 1918 PVT James Touchstone, U.S. Army, DOB July 25, 1895 – DOD Oct. 26, 1918 PVT. Eugene Tuggle, U.S. Army, DOB Sept. 2, 1892 – DOD Sept. 7, 1918 PFC Albert Wimbish, U.S. Army, DOB 1893 – DOD Dec. 14, 1918. Spalding County is fortunate to have a local committee, Honor Our KIA , currently actively engaged in honoring men and women from this County who died in service from WWI to the present. It is poised to move quickly to give these young men the recognition they have for so long been denied at their May 29th Memorial Weekend ceremony. Melton said, ‘Obviously it’s impossible now to go back and undo the slight these young men and their families suffered, but we’re proud to be a part of the effort to insure they will now receive the recognition they deserve. Accordingly, Honor Our KIA will soon include their biographies on our website and in May we’ll install individual bronzes plaques and QR Codes on buildings downtown recognizing each of these hometown heroes.’ Anyone with any information at all about these young men should contact Honor Our KIA at 770-468-9511 as quickly as possible. Melton added, ‘Our committee hopes that this revelation and our community’s response will encourage other cities to similarly investigate their own memorials and, where necessary, move aggressively to make any corrections that are appropriate.’

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