Special exhibit opens at Fort Pickens

Special to Northwest Florida Daily News

GULF BREEZE — The National Park Service will open a special exhibit Dec. 14 at the Fort Pickens Discovery Center.

The exhibit will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through May 15 at the center in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze. It highlights the 25th United States Colored Troops that served in the Pensacola Bay Area during and immediately after the Civil War.

It will feature life-sized portraits of 17 members of the 25th USCT, Company G, which were created by artist Shayne Davidson. The portraits are based on a locket-sized photo album that includes a photo of each man and all but one of their names.

The original album is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was originally shared with Davidson by the great-granddaughter of Capt. William A. Prickett, its original owner.

“The men in the album bravely participated in a pivotal event in our nation’s history,” Davidson said. “It was a privilege for me to research their lives and create their portraits.”

Over a six-month period, she created the portraits and genealogical research on the men, which is displayed next to each portrait.

In addition to the portraits, original artifacts from the USCT will be on display. An 1864 Fort Barrancas Muster Roll lists each of the men in the portraits as well as the other men of the company. Additional artifacts on display include a harmonica fragment, a book owned by a 25th USCT member, a recruitment song sheet, and more.

The muster roll and harmonica fragment are two of over 500,000 objects preserved in the park’s museum collection. Other objects on display have been loaned to the park for the exhibit.

The first of its kind at Gulf Islands National Seashore, the exhibit will feature the service of African Americans during the Civil War like never before.

“We are proud to host these incredible works of art and artifacts, which connect the stories of these brave men to the areas preserved by the national seashore,” said the fort’s superintendent, Dan Brown.

It is especially timely as the nation recognizes 400 years of African American history.

The United States Colored Troops were segregated units of black men, led by white officers. The units were formed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 officially authorized African Americans to serve in the U.S. Army. The men of the 25th USCT were among the nearly 180,000 black men to serve during the Civil War.

Learn more about the United States Colored Troops and the 25th USCT on the park’s website, www.nps.gov.