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Queens Historical Society highlights the forgotten of the Civil War

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Even though it was fought more than 130 years ago, the Civil War is commemorated, talked about, and re-enacted so much, it's as if it ended in 1997.

But conspicuously left out of these remembrances is the very real involvement of black soldiers in the fighting - on either side.

Even Civil War aficionados may not realize that more than 188,000 blacks served in the Union army and navy, among them more than 250 blacks from what is now Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.

The Queens Historical Society opens a new exhibit on Sunday, June 10 at the Kingsland Homestead, "Many Thousand Gone: Long Island's African-Americans and the Civil War."

The exhibition, on loan from the Nassau County Department of Recreation, Parks and Support Services, highlights drawing and photos (photography was an emerging technology in the mid-19th century) of Northern blacks in battle scenes, leading wagon trains, building army forts and serving as blacksmiths.

Dispelling the image that the North was a bastion of civil rights waging a moral war against the racist South, the nearly 179,000 blacks who enlisted in the Union army were segregated into "U.S. Colored Troops" and were paid less than white soldiers were. The Union navy, though, did integrate its 10,000 black enlistees, who made up a fifth of the sailors.

The exhibit includes several not-very-well-known anecdotes. In 1864, for example, Queens' own Lewis Latimer - who later collaborated with Thomas Edison in the development of the electric light bulb - concealed his too-young age to enroll in the Union navy, and served on the U.S. Massasoit.

Wesley Hunt, born a slave in Kentucky, served in both the Confederate (being a slave, he had little choice) and Union armies. He was honorably discharged from the 100th U.S. Colored Infantry in 1865, and later moved to Whitestone.

Admission is free for the June 10 opening reception and a curator's tour at the Kingsland Homestead, 143-35 37th Ave. in Flushing. Call 939-0647

The exhibition continues through March 3, 2002.

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