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Tag Archives: James Preston Spencer

- True Son of Freedom: The World War I Experience of James Preston Spencer

True Sons of Freedom, a photographic exhibition at the Library of Virginia, explores the stories of Virginia’s African American World War I soldiers. More than just mementos for families and sweethearts, these portraits challenge the crude and demoralizing cultural products of an era that often reduced African Americans to stereotypes and denied them full participation as citizens of the United States. Reflecting the pride and determination of African American World War I servicemen, the images were submitted with the soldiers’ responses to military service questionnaires created by the Virginia War History Commission, part of an effort to capture the scope of Virginians’ participation in the Great War. The original photographs, reproduced in the gallery at nearly life-size dimensions, place visitors at eye level in front of the soldiers. The monumental scale allows viewers the opportunity to examine rich details not seen in the original photo postcards.

This blog post will examine the life of one of the soldiers featured in the exhibit in greater detail. James Preston Spencer served in the 370th Infantry. He was born on 15 June 1888 in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. His parents, William Spencer and Bettie Reed Henry Spencer, had eleven children in total. Both were born in Charlotte County and presumably into slavery, William in 1856 and Bettie in 1863, at a plantation called … read more »