“Now is Our Time to Strike”
During the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 at Fort Scott, Kansas, Captain William D. Mathews, commanding Company D of 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, gave a speech highlighting the opportunity for blacks to fight in the Civil War (1861-1865). He declared: “Today is a day that I always thought would come …Now is our time to strike. Our own exertions and our own muscle must make us men. If we fight we shall be respected. I see that a well-licked man respects the one who thrashes him.”
The regiment’s commanding officer – Colonel James M. Williams – also spoke, insisting that “this will be no mere struggle for conquest, but a struggle for their own freedom, a determined and, as I believe, irresistible struggle for the disenthralment of a people who have long suffered oppression and wrong at the hands of our enemies.”
Kansas was the first Northern state to recruit, train, and send black soldiers into combat during the Civil War. Fort Scott served as the home base for both the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry, with both regiments being mustered into federal service on Fort Scott’s former parade ground. The Emancipation Proclamation officially authorized the recruitment of African American soldiers for federal service (although the 1st Kansas Colored had earlier been recruited as a state unit in August 1862). This meant it was now legal for free blacks and former slaves to fight back against the institution of slavery and seek to abolish it through armed resistance. As virtually every Southern slave code prohibited blacks from carrying guns, the proclamation had a profound psychological impact across the region.