Preserving History

American Legion James Reese Europe Post No. 5 Veterans Day event highlights archiving efforts

By JimShir Harris and Alex Morgan

Photo by Kelly VaughenHistorian Mara Cherkasky of Prologue DC describes the process of archiving the documents and photographs found in the Post No. 5 home.

Local veterans, representatives from the American University Washington College of Law, local archivists and preservationists spoke of the importance of preserving the history of organizations such as American Legion James Reese Europe Post No. 5. The Veterans Day event on Nov. 20, 2016, was held in the Chapel of Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.

The D.C.-based American Legion Post’s members have traditionally been African American veterans. Vice Commander John Hicks delivered opening remarks to the audience and provided an overview of the history of the Post and of his involvement. He then moved on to discuss his own experiences as a Korean War veteran.

JimShir Harris and Alex Morgan, student attorneys from American University Washington College of Law’s Community and Economic Development Law Clinic presented on the Clinic’s representation of Post No. 5. They covered the general trends of declining American Legion Post membership across the country as well as provided examples of interesting finds that showcased the importance of historic preservation. In considering the possibility of dissolution for Post No. 5, it became clear that the Post would need to take an inventory of the historical materials contained in its meeting house.

Photo by Kelly VaughenFranz Jantzen, a Washington, D.C.-based photo restoration expert, displays a before and after example of a portrait of Commander James R. Bell in Post No. 5’s home.

Mara Cherkasky, a historian at Prologue DC, LLC, presented on the historical documents found in the Post’s archives. Mara discussed the history behind some of the documents found at the Post building including documents relating to past Post commanders.  Franz Jantzen, a specialist in the area of photo restoration provided the audience with before and after comparisons of some Post No. 5 photos. Through the magic of the restoration process, photos that had degraded over time were returned to a state close to their original condition.

The event concluded with veterans in attendance telling stories of their experiences from being overseas and then returning home.  The attendees also provided the Clinic and Post No. 5 with many suggestions on how to move the Post’s preservation project forward.  Many of the suggestions focused on ways to get the community more involved with Post No. 5 and its history.