Black historical interpreters act to keep history alive as some work to erase it

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WASHINGTON — It’s a bright, balmy February day, and a young man dressed in Civil War regalia cuts a dashing figure while striding down U Street, the historic epicenter of Black arts, culture and heritage in the nation’s capital. 

Marquett Milton is clad in a replica of a Union Army uniform, complete with a navy wool sack coat, light-blue pants and a kepi cap covering his locs. While his 19th-century attire elicits a few quizzical looks from passersby, it’s clear from Milton’s swagger that he is proud.  

He is among a cadre of interpreters and re-enactors across the country — some professionals, others amateurs — who are illuminating people, places and events from the past through a Black lens. At a time when the country is witnessing attempts at erasing entire chapters of American history — whether banning books or deploying revisionist history — these individuals are seeking to embody narratives in a literal way.

“I love talking about history,” said Milton, a staffer at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the more than 200,000 United States Colored Troops (USCT) who served the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, many of them sacrificing their lives to unite the country after 11 Southern states seceded over slavery.