Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I love history

The Inside Scoop: Like I said, I love these kinds of stories. Civil War diary discovered in the family attic. Written by a thoughtful, ex-slave-turned-soldier. Unfortunately, I had a tough time writing the piece, mainly because it could have been twice as long as it is. (A Globe South version I wrote was longer.) Also, I was spent after coming back from California and just didn't have the energy for this one. Still, the deadline didn't wait. It came out fine. The inside story on this one is that the Globe photo desk rejected the photo assignment to shoot the guy at the ceremony. It was the day after the marathon and apparently lots of photogs took the day off. That's understandable. What I still can't fathom is why they wouldn't accept the photos I took. I was kind of miffed they cancelled the assignment (how can you have a feature without a photo!) so I took my camera and shot photos like I did at Salem and Malden. Not boasting, but the photo here of Bill Gould is a lot better than the one the historical society took. But we had to use THEIR photo, because freelancers can't take photos. I dunno. It was just rotten journalism. Don't use the better photo. I'm still miffed, as you can tell.

Freedom and glory: The diary of an ex-slave
Descendant gives Union sailor's entries to historical society

The voice, clear and commanding, was Boston-born Bill Gould's. But the words he spoke were those of his great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould, an escaped African-American slave who joined the Union Navy and kept a daily diary of his incredible passage to freedom.

''The next cruise that she makes will be for Uncle Samuel," Gould read aloud, intimating Petty Officer Gould's pride upon commandeering a Confederate vessel in 1864.

''Came to anchor at four bells," he continued, from an 1863 passage. ''Read the Articles of War. Also the Proclamation of Emancipation. Very good."

''This is a passage that I like in particular," Gould said before donating the 144-year-old diary, possibly the only one of its kind, to the Massachusetts Historical Society on Tuesday. The date was April 15, 1865. The war, and slavery, were about to end.

''On my return on board I heard the glad tidings," he read, ''that the Stars and Stripes had been planted over the capitol of the defeated confederacy by the invincible Grant. While we honor the living soldiers who have done so much, we must not forget to whisper for fear of disturbing the glorious sleep of the many who have fallen, martyrs to the cause of right and equality."

The diary, begun in 1862, was discovered in 1958, when Bill Gould's father, William B. Gould III, stumbled upon it while cleaning out the attic of the family's home in East Dedham, where William Benjamin Gould became a building contractor and community pillar after the Civil War.

Some chapters, unfortunately, were thrown out by accident. But the sections that remain -- hundreds of pages detailing Gould's wartime adventures to the day of his discharge at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1865 -- provide an invaluable account of an African-American who joined the Union military months before Colonel Robert Gould Shaw recruited blacks for his fabled 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

The ex-slave's words are eloquent; his thoughts, considerate; his penmanship, extraordinary. On top of that, he had quite a life.

Bill Gould, a Stanford law professor who headed the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration, has made researching the yellowed journal his life's passion. In 2002 he published a detailed book about the diary, ''Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor." Wanting to share the diary with even more readers, he contacted the historical society.

Gould, whose full name is William Benjamin Gould IV, returned to Boston to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park during ''Jackie Robinson Day" last weekend. (Though Gould grew up in New Jersey he is a life-long Red Sox fan.) On Tuesday he officially gifted the diary to the society, which will have portions on public display throughout the summer.

''The diary has taught me that I really got a lucky chance in life," he said. ''He was able to persevere under the most adverse circumstances. Escaping from slavery, serving under difficult circumstances during the war at sea, facing real bullets, then forging his own way on the basis of a craft. Hero is an overused term these days, particularly since 2001. But it seems to me that he fits this word very well."


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