Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
America's forgotten black heroes
Soldiers dressed in Civil War uniforms rehearse for the dedication ceremony
It is a little known fact, even in the United States, that 209,000 black soldiers fought in the American Civil War.
On Saturday, 133 years after the Confederacy was defeated by the Union, a memorial to those black soldiers is being dedicated in Washington.
Thousands of runaway slaves, along with many free blacks living in the north, joined the Union army and fought with distinction.
Men such as First Sergeant Powhatan Beattie who, on 29 September 1864, took command of his company in a battle in Virginia and led it "gallantly" after all the officers had been killed.
But although the Union was fighting against slavery it was itself guilty of racism.
Black soldiers were paid less than their white comrades and at the end of the war black veterans were not invited to the victory parade.
"The memorial, to me, represents the beginning of a broader education for America and everyone to know that as a population of slaves they were willing to fight for their own freedom."
In recent years attempts to combat this ignorance have been boosted by literature and films such as Glory, starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
But historians and black activists feel it is not only blacks but whites too who would benefit from learning about their debt to the soldiers.
Carol Hector Harris, another descendant, says: "America itself needs to know about that history and not overlook that history because this country would not be where it is today if these men had not fought."
The vast majority fought for the Union but a smaller number were persuaded by their slave masters to "defend the Confederacy against invasion by the fanatical invader".
Thousands of slaves were also forced to build fortifications, thus freeing white soldiers for the Confederate cause.