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The Creation of National Freedom Day – Truly Historic Blog

Chris Hauff Feb 01, 2021

Miss Clark’s Truly Historic Blog | February 2021

Black History Month begins every year on February 1.  It’s a day recognized as National Freedom Day to honor the signing of what would later become the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and outlaw slavery.

The effort to establish the National Freedom Day was led by Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr.  Wright was born into slavery in Georgia in 1855. After the Civil War, he and his mother moved from Dalton to Atlanta where he received an education and later became a college founder and banker.

Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr. was a college founder and banker who led the effort to create National Freedom Day.

In December 1896, Wright became a founding member of the American Negro Academy.  Two years later, he was commissioned a Major in the United States Army and appointed by President William McKinley as paymaster of the United States Volunteers, the first African American to hold the position.  He was also the highest-ranking African American at the time.

Later in life, when Wright was in his eighties, he turned his attention to creating National Freedom Day to commemorate President Lincoln’s signing of the 13th Amendment.  The bill establishing the day was signed into law by President Truman in 1948, a year after Wright passed away at 94 years old.

Twenty years after the creation of National Freedom Day, a 19-year-old African American Marine Ralph H. Johnson gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the Vietnam War.

Private First Class Johnson, a Charleston, S.C. native, arrived in Vietnam in January 1968 and served as a Reconnaissance Scout.

Two months after his arrival, during Operation ROCK, Pfc. Johnson and his 15-man reconnaissance patrol manned an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Duc Valley deep in enemy-controlled territory. They were attacked and as the enemy raced up the hill, a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Pfc. Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the danger to his comrades, Pfc. Johnson shouted a warning and willingly hurled himself upon the explosive device.  The brave and selfless act cost him his life, but it saved the life of a fellow Marine and prevented the enemy from advancing.

Pfc. Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. The Charleston VA Medical Center is named in his honor.

Pfc. Johnson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. He was also awarded the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, Civil Actions First Class and Good Conduct Marine Corps.

Here in Charleston, our local V.A. Hospital is named in his honor as is the Navy’s warship USS Ralph Johnson which was commissioned on March 24, 2018.

You can learn more about Pfc. Johnson’s heroic story and that of many others in the Medal of Honor Museum located aboard our ship the USS Yorktown, CV-10. This portrait of him was recently revealed and placed in the VA Hospital in Charleston.

May each of you have a truly historic Black History Month full of learning.


Getting To Know Miss Clark:

My name is Cindy Clark, but most of my life as a teacher I’ve been known as Miss Clark. For more than 24 years, I was blessed to teach in a traditional classroom full of students who often taught me more than I taught them. Then, I left the classroom and boarded a truly historic ship – the USS Yorktown. I spent more than 10 years educating students from across the country about history, honor, and patriotism as part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum’s education department.  As of August 14, 2020, I officially retired, and looking back, I feel so blessed to have had an impact on so many young lives!

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