Courageous ‘Black Regiment’ honored in Portsmouth

First R.I. director of veterans affairs is guest speaker at annual observance

Jim McGaw
Posted 8/30/16

PORTSMOUTH — Standing in front of a wall inscribed with the names of 794 soldiers who fought off the British in 1pa778, Kasim J. Yarn said he and others have a duty to keep their memories …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Courageous ‘Black Regiment’ honored in Portsmouth

First R.I. director of veterans affairs is guest speaker at annual observance

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Standing in front of a wall inscribed with the names of 794 soldiers who fought off the British in 1pa778, Kasim J. Yarn said he and others have a duty to keep their memories alive for future generations.

Mr. Yarn, who became Rhode Island’s first director of veterans affairs when he was appointed to the post earlier this year, was the guest speaker at the Newport County Branch of the NAACP’s annual ceremony Sunday commemorating the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

“Part of my task is to honor them and to honor the men on the wall behind me,” said Mr. Yarn, who retired as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy in May after 25 years of military service. “May God bless the men of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Without you, there would be no me.”

The Continental Army unit, also known as the “Black Regiment,” was a contingent of slaves, freemen and Native Americans who valiantly stopped the advances of the British and Hessian forces during the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Rhode Island on Aug. 29, 1778. The skirmish was fought near Patriots Park, located at the intersection of routes 114 and 24, where about 80 people gathered for the ceremony.

“The courage displayed by the soldiers of 1778 was unsurpassed by any other regiment,” Mr. Yard said. “Three times the British forces attempted to attack, but our men held them back three times. We had men who were slaves who were willing to die for this country.”

It’s important to remember the regiment’s legacy when thinking about today’s veterans, he said. 

“Today, many of our sons and daughters are returning home with amputations, disfigurements, physical ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder, among other ailments. It is nearly impossible for these veterans and their families to forget the sacrifices they’ve made, so why should we allow the memories of these men to elapse?” he said, gesturing to the monument behind him. 

“They have protected Rhode Island and preserved what would later become our way of life. The 1st Regiment had the moral courage to focus on the state’s needs, not their own.”

‘I saw Navy blue’

Mr. Yarn’s own life path was shaped by three pivotal events in the Civil Rights struggle, all of which took place in his home state of Mississippi. 

He was born in 1972, just 17 years after the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till, nine years after the assassination of Medgar Evers and eight years after the murders of three civil rights workers.

“I remember sitting in my algebra class when I was a junior in high school. Our teacher shared actual newspaper clippings from those three events. Her message to us: ‘Education is key to equality,’” he said.

That summer he joined the Navy, and through the Delayed Entry Program found himself in boot camp within 12 hours of receiving his high school diploma — “running away from Mississippi as a child,” he said.

“While in boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, I didn’t see black, I didn’t see white, I didn’t see dark, I didn’t see colored. I saw Navy blue,” Mr. Yarn said.

Sunday marked the 53rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he noted.

“I epitomize Dr. King’s dream,” he said. “I get to lead this great Ocean State as the first director of veterans affairs for the state of Rhode Island, as an African-American man. I get to give back to a state that has given me so much.”

Unique, historic site

Paul L. Gaines, the former mayor of Newport who served as master of ceremonies, said people shouldn’t take the site of the Battle of Rhode Island — the only Revolutionary War battle in which a segregated African-American unit fought — for granted. It’s one of only 2,400 land markers listed on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

“Something happened here that didn’t happen any place else in the United States history,” he said.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.