Capturing American history through they eyes of Rockford’s black veterans


Blacks who went to war for this country are often forgetten about or written out of history. Many faced that  same discrimination once returning home
On Saturday, the stories of the men who were highlighted  shows us they were a critical compenent to what made the Military what is was and still is to this day.

Many gathered at Rockford’s Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum on Saturday to honor Black members of the United States Military.

Harlem High School teachers Nicolas Stange and Kyra Newnam are behind the Harlem Veteran Project.

In it’s 10th year, Stange says these stories are always important to share in person.

“As humans, we connect with emotions and feelings and that’s really what created between the students and the veterans.” said Stange.

Students from Harlem High School interviewed vets as they shared what it meant to be Black and in uniform.

One of those veterans and current Rockford Police Officer James Presley doesn’t talk much about his time in Japan,  but when Tiana Jackson reached out, he knew what he needed to do.

“The students actually had the most interest in our stories. I don’t go and talk about my military service or anything like that but once it’s requested of me. I guess I felt the need to just share.” said Presley.

Stange says having the students speak with historymakers is bigger than any lecture or textbook.

“They’re able to give you a much more personable connection, when we interview vets, they do more teaching with their eyes & their emotions than i can do talking about it because they were there.” said Stange.

Because of their skin color, Blacks who went to war were often faced with another war when they returned home.

Some weren’t even officially welcomed home because of their skin color.

“I came home and I was never welcomed,” said James Akbar who fought in the Army and was a PFC E-3.

As a walking history lesson, Presley says he doesn’t even know where to start to thanks those that came before him.

“We will never repay what they’ve done for us but if I try everyday to just be better than I was the day before and try to help someone I think I’m on the right path.” said Presley

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