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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ohio's 'Chinese' Civil War Soldiers: Critics Call State's History Marker A Fraud

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- There's a state historical marker on the east side of Columbus that has stirred a row. Since 2003, it has commemorated the contributions of Ohio's Chinese and Asian soldiers who served in the Civil War, but some researchers believe it made unproven claims that presented false history.

There were 17 names on the back of the marker in Franklin Park, all soldiers who supposedly had "Chinese sounding last names." Researchers pointed out that Charles Au, who was a private in the 55th Ohio Infantry, actually came from Germany. He had hazel eyes and dark hair. And there was Andrew Lee, a white farmer who was born in Greenfield, Ohio, or another Lee, this one from Nova Scotia. The researchers pointed out that Lee was a common European surname. For example, nobody would claim that Gen. Robert E. Lee who led the Confederate army, was from Asia. He was a member of the landed gentry from Virginia.

Terry Foenander, who studied the Franklin Park marker, published a research paper about its claims and worried that it set a tone for inaccurate historical accounts that could warp the truth for years to come.

"As the Civil War continues to garner more and more interest, it is obvious that many minority groups who never played a major role in the war will seek to have some link to this period of American history. They do not wish to be left out of events that changed America. Let us not blind ourselves to the fact that a small number of these groups did participate in those events of long ago, but on the other hand, let us also not assume that history should be guided by the view of these non-historians or amateur researchers. Proper history is made up of factual data, and not assumptions. Assumptions are not necessarily true, and confirmation needs to be had through research. The proper history of the nation is built upon facts and not deception."

There are several photos of the controversial historical marker available on the state's web portal, and it still salutes the Chinese soldiers contribution to defeating the South.

"The official roster of Civil War soldiers of the State of Ohio contains soldiers with Chinese surnames. Records of Asian soldiers are incomplete and difficult to find because many were denied pensions. Some adopted European names, non-Chinese names, or nicknames as their family names. Nevertheless many Civil War soldiers of Asian descent have been identified and have been confirmed in literature. Since the Civil War, Asians descendants have served our nation with loyalty in many wars, despite generations of exclusion and discrimination."

That's what the back of the plaque says today. Sounds like a good and accurate compromise.

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