Video Story: Archived into History

Researchers endeavor to capture Post No. 5's role in African American war history

By Nicole E. Webb

James Reese Europe, one of the first World War I black officers to lead troops into battle and the American Legion Post No. 5’s namesake, lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Less than 10 miles away, the Post No. 5’s home in Washington, D.C., is now the focus of a historic preservation effort led by American University Washington College of Law’s Community and Economic Development Law Clinic.

Prof. Brenda Smith, the clinic director, said her determination to help Post No. 5 preserve its legacy was fueled by her own family’s military ties.

“I understand how the military continues to be a gateway, or a pathway, to something better,” Smith said. “I see the the Post as really sort of the beginning, really the genesis, of the creation of opportunities that members of my family actually took advantage of.”

Mara Cherkasky, project lead archivist and owner of Prologue DC, hopes the historical resources that she is helping to make available to libraries, museums, and researchers, will not only put Post No. 5 on the map, but also advance knowledge in several important areas.

“Scholars who go through the archives after it’s organized,” she said, “will be able to learn things about the armed forces, about D.C., about African Americans in Washington and the country, that may not be available elsewhere.”

Prof. Angie Chuang of the American University School of Communication is collaborating with Smith by documenting the historic preservation project on this website. She and Smith are working closely with Post No. 5 Commander Dr. James Jones, a Vietnam Air Force veteran.

“What I hope this will do is, as we are on the eve of the opening of the amazing Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, that this tide of interest might also sweep up with them the resource that is Post 5,” Chuang said. “And that we might find preservationists or curators that are interested in the artifacts, interested in the story of Post 5.”