African American News

"Army honors first African-American chaplain"

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LANDOVER, Md., July 5 - The Army presented an honorable discharge to the family of its first African-American chaplain and dedicated a new headstone July 1 to Capt. Henry Vinton Plummer, more than 110 years after his court-martial in 1894.

"Today is a testimony to the truth that 'God's millstone of justice may grind slowly, but it grinds exceedingly fine,'" said Maj. Gen. David H. Hicks, Army chief of chaplains. "I am delighted to be part of this highly significant event as we redress the injustice done to Chaplain Plummer...."

Hicks spoke to more than 125 family members and friends who gathered at National Harmony Memorial Park to remember Plummer's life and legacy.

"I am pleased that the Army Board for Correction of Military Records has restored Chaplain Plummer to his rightful, deserved place in history," Hicks said.

"We recognize his service during the Civil War, his ten years of faithful and honorable service with the Ninth Cavalry and his demonstrated patriotism and love of country."

Plummer's military career began 30 years prior to his dismissal from service. After being born into slavery in Prince George's County, Maryland, in 1844, he escaped from slavery in 1862 to join the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. He served aboard the USS Coeur de Lion.

After being honorably discharged from the Navy, he taught himself to read and write and attended the Wayland Seminary to become a Baptist minister. Before accepting a commission as an Army chaplain in 1884, he served as a pastor of several churches in the District of Columbia.

Hicks explained that Plummer was the first African-American clergyman to be commissioned as a chaplain in the regular Army.

"Chaplain Plummer quickly became popular with the men and his church services were well attended," Hicks said. "In a monthly report, Plummer said that his commander regularly attended services and encouraged the troops to a 'higher state of morality and education,'".

Plummer, who was responsible for the pastoral care and education of the regiment's troopers and their families, was dismissed from service in 1894. After being accused of drinking with enlisted men and an altercation, he faced a court-martial on the grounds of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

An appeal to Plummer's case was brought to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records by the Rev. L. Jerome Fowler, a great grandnephew of Plummer, and member of the Committee to Clear Chaplain Plummer Inc., Feb. 18, 2004.

After reviewing the case, the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records did not overturn the court-martial, but determined that Plummer be issued an honorable discharge to restore equity. The committee concluded racism at that time contributed to Plummer's dismissal.

According to Fowler, the awareness of Plummer's dismissal from the Army began in 1996, when three members of the Prince George's County Chapter of African American Historical and Genealogical Society learned of his court-martial and dishonorable discharge. In June 2001, Fowler and others formed the Committee to Clear Chaplain Plummer Inc., to research the circumstances surrounding his dismissal further.

"Henry Vinton Plummer lived the last ten years of his life struggling to accomplish what has finally been realized -- his exoneration," Fowler said. "It is especially gratifying to stand before you in the midst of this sacred garden and celebrate with all of you the life of a giant who stood tall among his family, his parishioners and his peers."

Fowler encourages Plummer family and friends to retell the story. "I challenge you to go back and tell the story in your communities, churches, and school -- let our youth remember Henry Vinton Plummer."

Fowler said it is important to share the remarkable story of not just one, but of all the men and women in history who gave of themselves for the strength and endurance of the United States of America.

"His story was lost to history, but not anymore," said Teri Plummer-McClure, great, great granddaughter. Our children don't learn about Buffalo Soldiers in our schools. My daughters, Morgan, 12, and Kristin, 10, will remember they were part of history in the making today."

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Army chief of Public Affairs, wrote a letter to Fowler, which was read by Brig. Gen. Mari K. Eder, deputy chief of Public Affairs.

"This day represents the accomplishments of a mission that began over 100 years ago, when Capt. Plummer answered the call to duty by accepting his appointment as the first African-American chaplain in the U.S. Army," Eder said.

Eder said today's Army is an organization that represents diversity and opportunity to all Americans. Our nation has changed since 1890, so has the Army.

"I believe Capt. Plummer would be pleased to know 143 African-Americans are answering the same call to duty by serving as Army chaplains -- including the most senior-ranking among them, the chief of Chaplains for the entire Army," Eder said.

Tears streaming down her face and clutching an American flag given to her by Old Guard Soldiers, Olga Plummer-Talley, the eldest great granddaughter, said today is a great day for our family and it is an honorable day because the Army has finally cleared his name.

"In families, stories have the tendency to be retold over and over again. Henry Plummer's story was one of valor and courage -- he was a dedicated Soldier committed to service. He believed in his job and did it to the best of his ability," Plummer-Talley said.

"It takes courage to stand up and correct a mistake and I look at the Army differently now. Today is a glorious day," Plummer-Talley said. "I think Henry Vinton would say thank God my name is clear and I know God is true."

Trooper Richard E. Robinson, president of the National Ninth and Tenth (Horse) Calvary Association, Buffalo Soldiers said Capt. Plummer was part of the Buffalo Soldier legacy -- the same troops who fought beside Teddy Roosevelt on Kettle Hill.

"The U.S. Army has returned Henry Plummer's honor and dignity to the family today," Robinson said.

Olga Lolita Darby, great granddaughter, said that she is surprised that something good can come from something bad.

"It's important to our family history -- that we leave something behind, a legacy, something we are proud to be part of," Darby said.

Future plans for the Plummer family include the construction of a Henry Vinton Plummer mausoleum in his honor, said Emanuel Bego, spokesperson for National Harmony Memorial Park.

"This shows that we live in one of the greatest countries in the world. By standing up and making a correction, we are able to see what this county was founded on -- principles of justice," Bego said.

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