Cicilline Seeks to Honor First Rhode Island Regiment with the Congressional Gold Medal

 Cicilline Seeks to Honor First Rhode Island Regiment with the Congressional Gold Medal
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Regiment was America’s first integrated military unit
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) was joined Representatives Seth Magaziner (D-RI), Mike Lawler (R-NY), and Joe Wilson (R-SC) in introducing the First Rhode Island Regiment Congressional Gold Medal Act. This long overdue legislation will posthumously recognize the heroic efforts of America’s first integrated military unit with the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal will be presented to the Rhode Island State Library in the unit’s honor for display, research, and ceremonial purposes.

“Rather than receiving the recognition they deserved following their service to our nation, many of those who fought in the First Rhode Island Regiment during the Revolutionary War were forced to resist efforts at re-enslavement, while at the same time having to fight for back wages from the Rhode Island General Assembly,” said Congressman Cicilline. “This is hardly how we should treat those who fought for the creation of this nation. The Congressional Gold Medal was initially established by the Continental Congress in 1776 to honor high achievement and distinction among Revolutionary military and naval leaders. Surely, the First Rhode Island Regiment qualifies for this centuries-old tradition.”

“I can think of few Americans more deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal than the patriots of the First Rhode Island Regiment, our country’s first racially integrated military unit,” said Rep. Magaziner. “For far too long, these brave heroes and their contributions to our nation’s independence have gone unrecognized. I am proud to join Representative Cicilline in honoring the rich history of Rhode Island, which will continue to inspire Rhode Islanders for generations to come.”

“I’m proud to join a bipartisan coalition of my colleagues in posthumously awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the First Rhode Island Regiment- America’s first integrated military unit. The First Rhode Island Regiment played an integral role in the fight for America’s independence and their troops traversed much of New York’s current 17th Congressional District- including Peekskill and present-day Yorktown and took position near what is now the location of the Croton Reservoir,” said Rep. Lawler. “These brave soldiers blazed the trail of freedom from Yorktown, Virginia to Yorktown, New York, even though so many had been denied their own. It is incumbent on us to recognize their heroic deeds and honor their legacy by awarding them the thanks that they are due from a grateful nation. For this reason, I’m proud to cosponsor the long-overdue First Rhode Island Regiment Congressional Gold Medal Act.”

“The First Rhode Island Regiment bravely served America in its battle for independence in the Revolutionary War. Not only was the unit one of the few in the Continental Army to serve every year of the war, but it is regarded as the first integrated regiment. I am grateful to join my colleagues in this bipartisan legislation to award these men their just recognition and our belated appreciation,” said Rep. Wilson.

More than 170 years before President Harry Truman officially integrated the United States Armed Forces, a racially diverse, integrated unit, the First Rhode Island Regiment, fought valiantly for our nation’s independence.

In the winter of Valley Forge, from 1777-1778, the Continental Army faced tremendously difficult odds and had difficulty recruiting the necessary forces. To address these difficulties, the Rhode Island General Assembly called for the enlistment of an integrated force – including enslaved individuals, individuals of mixed race, and Indigenous Americans – to help fill the State’s quota. The Assembly also provided that, upon an honorable discharge, any enslaved individual who served in this new Regiment would be provided their freedom.

By June 1778, nearly 200 men of African and Indigenous descent enlisted to form the core of the First Rhode Island Regiment. In August 1778, this Regiment fought valiantly in one of the Revolutionary War’s turning points, the Battle of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Regiment was demobilized in June 1783 at Saratoga.

The First Rhode Island Regiment Congressional Gold Medal Act is endorsed by the Museum of the American Revolution, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc.,, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, and the Newport County Branch of the NAACP.

“The African heritage and indigenous soldiers that compromised the Rhode Island First fought for and earned a newfound sense of pride and determination that would later set the stage to advance freedom and equality for all Americans,” said Theresa Guzmán Stokes, Executive Director of the RI Black Heritage Society.

“It is an historical imperative that the courage of the Black Regiment in the American Revolutionary War be memorialized.  These men of ‘uncommon valor’ helped to win a decisive battle for liberty and justice, paving the way for our democratic form of government.  Their fortitude and dedication are still inspiring,” said James I. Winters, President, Newport County Branch, NAACP.

“At least 5,000 men of color fought in the Continental Army, but their contributions to the nation are not well known. We are committed to lifting up these lesser-known stories at the Museum and are thrilled that this legislation seeks to pay tribute to the extraordinary lives of these men, who wore the uniform of the United States, helped to secure its independence and prosperity, and yet who have not received the recognition they deserve as American founders. We all benefit from a richer, more inclusive view of our nation’s history,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President and CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

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