AN EAGLE ON HIS BUTTON: THE STORY OF HENRY MACK
© Stephen Chicoine 2002
(published in American Legacy: The Magazine of African-American History & Culture, Spring 2004, pp. 47-54)
The old man moved slowly down Minneapolis’ Fremont Avenue with the help of a cane. He was well over one hundred years old, a man known to the folks in the neighborhood. He might have looked less menacing, given his advanced age, had it not been for the double-barreled shotgun over his shoulder and the look of determination in his eyes. It was a warm June day, but the man wore a green sweater and a coat covered with badges.
Henry Mack was supposed to have stayed on the porch with his dog and cat. His daughter-in-law had been gone for less than an hour to the store. When she returned home, a neighbor lady ran out to her, calling “Dad is gone, Dad is gone”. Allie Johnson at first thought the old gentleman had passed away. When she realized otherwise, she set out on foot to look for Dad. Neighbors joined in the search. They found him five blocks away, sitting on a porch. A woman, who knew Mack, had called him over and talked him into taking a rest. He told everyone that he was headed for the Army recruiting station. It was June 1944. The Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy and were engaged in fierce fighting with the German Army.
America was in its third year of a bloody fight to defeat totalitarianism and defend democracy. Dad Mack closely followed the news through the course of the Second World War. He could not read or write, so he had his son or daughter-in-law constantly reading the newspaper aloud for him. Mack would become quite excited and there was little they could do to pacify the old gentleman. He loved his country and demanded to know all that there was to know about “the Fighting Yanks”. The headline in the June 9 edition of the Minneapolis Spokesman read, “This is it! Negro-Americans Play Their Part as D-Day Arrives; Invasion is On”.
Henry Mack remarked that June afternoon that “ … they just couldn’t get the fight over with unless the Civil War veterans got in the fight to whip the damn Japs and Germans, they would soon put an end to the fight and he wanted to get in and help whip them.” The defiant warrior, upon being told he was too old, assured them that had “a lot of damn good fight left in him yet.” Henry Mack was, in fact, one of the last remaining veterans of the American Civil War. The coat, which he wore on his way to the recruiting station, was the uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic, the once-powerful organization of Union Army veterans. His exploit that day was particularly remarkable, considering that Mack was no longer able to climb the stairs in his home and his GAR coat was kept in a closet on the second story of the house.
Henry was born a slave near Fayette, Alabama. The year was about 1836, but no one was really sure and the Fourth of July was the date for his birthday. In a 1912 letter to the Commissioner of Pensions in Washington, a friend transcribed Henry’s explanation:
“I only know my birthday being July 4th as having been told to me by my parents and Master or owner in the slavery days. The only recollection that I might relate which would bear upon dates or time is the fact, the year the call by means of Canons [cannons] in Alabama for volunteers to the Mexican War  I was offered for sale I distinctly [distinctly] remember in the same year my owner a Mr. Pole in Belfast Post Office, Saline County, Arkansas having just been moved by my owner from Pickens County, Alabama, and my Master stated in response to the questions of my prospective as to what my age was and he said that I was ten years (10) old at that time.”
Henry picked cotton in the fields throughout his youth. The overseer rode through the fields on horseback wielding a rawhide whip. He decided one day that Henry’s mother, Phoebe, was not working at a sufficient pace and threatened to horsewhip her. Henry, a young man in his mid twenties, pleaded, “Oh Massa Coe, don’t whip my mommy, whip me!” The overseer obliged Henry without mercy.
When Henry recovered from the beating, he decided to run away. He took his mother with him, knowing that she would slow him down but also knowing what fate awaited her if he left her behind. Henry and his mother waited until an evening when Massa Coe went into town, knowing that he would return late. The two slaves, mother and son, fled under the cover of darkness. They moved as quickly as they could, knowing that the bloodhounds would be on their trail in the morning. They took advantage of streambeds along the way to cover their trail from the hounds. People along the way assisted them as best they could. Henry and his mother came to a great river, which was so broad that it seemed unlikely that they could make their way across to the opposite shore. They followed along the river’s bank until they came upon a man with a boat, who agreed to row them to the far bank. The river was the Mississippi. Henry and his mother had made their way across the State of Mississippi to the Arkansas border.
The Confederate defeat at Corinth led to their subsequent withdrawal from northwestern Mississippi in mid 1862. The Union Army advanced south down the Mississippi River and occupied Helena, the largest city in Arkansas on the Mississippi River. From Helena, the Union forces controlled the southeast portion of the state along the river. Henry and Phoebe were among thousands of fugitive slaves, who sought refuge and attached themselves to the Union Army. Phoebe became a cook and Henry helped out around camp. One Union Army soldier from Indiana noted: “Our camps at Helena were overrun with contrabands … who flocked in from Mississippi and Arkansas plantations, anxious to do anything for the soldiers that would place them under the protection of the stars and stripes.”
The fugitive slaves may not have been nearly as safe as they might have assumed. There was considerable difference of opinion in the North in 1862 as to the objective of the war. Some volunteered to fight to re-unite the Union and preserve the democratic republic, but had no issue with the institution of slavery. Many Union officers allowed slave hunters into their camps to recover fugitives. In contrast, Radical Republican volunteers were determined to eliminate the hypocrisy of slavery within the democratic republic. They offered shelter to escaped slaves and at the risk of court-martial prevented slave hunters from entering their camps. The situation was not rectified until President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring free as of January 1, 1863 all slaves in the rebel states.
Lincoln’s proclamation transformed the war into a crusade to free humanity from bondage and Henry wanted to share in that fight. In March 1863, the Secretary of War ordered Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to organize African Americans in the Mississippi Valley into regiments. Two months later, the U. S. War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops to administer the recruitment and training of thousands of new soldiers. African American leaders urged their people to rush to enlist. Frederick Douglass told an audience:
“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.”
Helena was an important base in the Mississippi Valley for the Union Army. On July 4, 1863, a Confederate force nearly twice as large as the Union garrison attacked Helena. Most of the estimated two thousand five hundred African Americans, who made Helena home, lived in shanty towns just inside the picket lines. As Confederate skirmishers advanced, pushing back the Union pickets into the entrenched fortifications around the town, they came across the African Americans. The Confederates paused long enough to kill and wound a number of unarmed men, women and children. Lieutenant Albert Foster reported as to the enemy actions: “ … their attention was taken for a short time with a camp of negroes … just inside our picket line. How many of them were killed I never heard but their screams were terrible …”.
Henry adopted the surname Mack and enlisted in the United States Army at Helena on December 15, 1863. The Army assigned Henry Mack to the Fourth Arkansas Infantry (African Descent) Regiment, which it re-designated the Fifty-Seventh United States Colored Troops (USCT) in March 1864. The response of African Americans to fight was so overwhelming that the Federal government formed over one hundred and sixty regiments from approximately two hundred thousand volunteers. Henry’s initial experience was not unlike that of many in a war in which disease claimed more casualties than minie balls. He came down with rheumatism in the winter of 1863-1864 at Little Rock and “ … was laid up in camp and off duty all winter”. Henry Mack wrote this many years later and added, “ … have it now every winter since.”
Private Mack boarded a transport ship headed up the Arkansas River in early 1864. He remembered for the rest of his life the image of his mother on the wharf at Helena, waving goodbye to him. He never saw her again. Mack and his comrades were relegated to guard duty on train bridges as part of General Frederick Steele’s Camden Expedition. Steele’s objective was to drive the Confederates from southwestern Arkansas, but he ended up retreating back to Little Rock, barely managing to save his army. The campaign accomplished little, other than to define the conduct of future engagements for the Confederates massacred a large number of African American soldiers, whom they captured at Poison Springs on April 18. When the Fifty-Seventh saw its first action in a skirmish near Little Rock on April 26, the men not only were clear that the war was about race and freedom, but that surrender was not an option. Henry contracted chronic diarrhea that spring, a condition that plagued him for the rest of his long life.
The Fifty-Seventh took part in two skirmishes near Little Rock on May 24 and May 28, 1864. Orders in July 1864 sent the Fifty-Seventh to Duvall’s Bluff to fell timber and strengthen fortifications against attack from Confederates active in the area. The regiment was on garrison and patrol duty at Duvall’s Bluff and vicinity until near the end of the war. In April 1865, the Fifty-Seventh was detached from the brigade to be stationed at Little Rock for the defense of that post. The Fifty-Seventh regiment became part of the occupation force in Arkansas in the spring of 1865 after the defeat and collapse of the Confederacy. The men of the Fifty-Seventh, as with other regiments formed in late 1863, had enlisted for three-year terms. They had a year and a half of service remaining at the time the war ended.
The Department of Arkansas ordered the Fifty-Seventh regiment to Fort Smith on Arkansas’ western border in August 1865. White citizens of Fort Smith became accustomed to the African American soldiers of the Fifty-Seventh USCT patrolling their city streets and keeping order. While former Confederates perhaps were less than enthusiastic, Arkansas Unionists praised the soldiers. The Fort Smith New Era noted: “Fully one third of the 57th US Colored Infantry stationed here can read … Their desire for self-improvement is remarkable and notwithstanding the heavy guard and fatigue duties they have to perform, are making rapid strikes …”. A reporter for the New Era witnessed the Fifty-Seventh in dress parade in early September and wrote that he: “ … never saw a finer exhibition of a regimental parade … No one could fail to see the spirit of manly and soldierly pride with which the men carried themselves … These men know they are free and no power on earth can re-enslave them.” The reported added: “The behavior of the men when off duty is modest and respectful and no complaints have been known to exist against them.”
During 1866, six companies of the Fifty-Seventh were sent west to the New Mexico frontier to protect settlers from hostiles. They served there through the end of 1866 when their enlistment expired. The men of the Fifty-Seventh, who went west, became the first “Buffalo Soldiers” – a full year before Congress authorized the peacetime military to form African-American regiments for frontier service. Henry Mack was unable to claim the distinction of “Buffalo Soldier”, as his company appears to have remained behind at Fort Smith until muster out at the end of 1866. He was witness to the great council held at Fort Smith in September 1865 between representatives of the United States Government and leaders of the various nations of Native Americans. The government orchestrated the gathering to restore control over the tribes, which fought alongside the Confederacy. The resulting treaty established Indian Territory, which became present-day Oklahoma.
The Fifty-seventh Colored Infantry mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in December 1866. Henry returned to Arkansas for a time. He traveled about the state for several years, looking for his mother, but never found a trace of her. Life in Reconstruction-era Arkansas was difficult for African Americans. Certain groups violently resisted change, terrorizing and murdering white Republicans and African Americans, who attempted to exercise their new right to vote and hold office. Federal troops, which offered the only protection in the South for African Americans, were too few to do so effectively. Henry left Arkansas and lived for a time at Fort Dodge, Kansas and later at Leavenworth. He moved on to Omaha, Nebraska, where he settled during the 1870’s.
The so-called Reconstruction Era ended in 1876 when the presidential election ended in a bitterly disputed draw. The Republicans negotiated with Southern Democrats. The Republican candidate, Rutherford Hayes, became nineteenth president of the United States in return for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. The abandonment of African Americans was particularly painful for veterans like Henry Mack, who had worn the uniform of the United States Army and fought bravely in the service of the nation. Nebraska offered some escape for African Americans from the oppression in the South and offered the opportunity for better work. Henry married Martha Green, a widow with three children, in Omaha on September 24, 1881. The marriage took place at St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church. An 1895 roster of veteran soldiers living in Nebraska listed Henry Mack. The Union Pacific Railroad hired African Americans in the 1880’s and meatpacking companies also encouraged African Americans to move to Omaha. Either industry offered better conditions than working cotton in the South and nearly seven hundred African Americans called Omaha home by 1890.
Henry lived at 3013 Evans Street through the early 1900’s. A physician’s affidavit as early as 1898 stated that Henry Mack was “wholly disabled for the performance of manual labor. He has been able to do janitor work and such work as porter …”. He was known to do odd jobs with carpentry and plumbing for a time. Martha Mack died and Henry survived on his pension. He was receiving a monthly pension of $10 by 1903. He was forced to sign an affidavit in 1912 to clarify the confusion as to his exact birth date. Mack stated:
“I know, according to what my friends tell me in response to my relating of circumstances which I had seen in past years … I am seventy five years old and past.”
The date was not material and the government increased Mack’s monthly pension to $40 by 1918 and $72 by 1925.
A race riot in Omaha in 1919, which culminated in a lynching, may have convinced Henry Mack that it was time to move on. He moved north to Minnesota sometime before 1922. Mack was proud of his service as a soldier of the United States Army and became a member of Minneapolis’ George N. Morgan Post of the Grand Army of the Republic on July 14, 1922. The 1930 Federal Census lists Henry Mack and Sadie (Reed) Johnson as residing at 626 Bassett Place in Minneapolis’ Third Ward. Henry became quite fond of Clarence, Sadie’s only child from a previous marriage. Sadie was over thirty years younger than Henry. Some of the neighborhood boys thought that Sadie was Henry’s daughter, rather than his wife. Sadie was born in Iowa, the daughter of Kentuckians, and could read and write. She supported Henry and Clarence by working as a domestic for a private family.
A letter to the government in 1929 read:
“As I am sick and unable to write at all I am letting my wife do so for me with my full permission. A year ago I wrote for an increase in my pension being feeble also sick at the time being. I was still able to help myself a little so I let it go by and I am a great deal worse off having to have constant care and looking after. I am 93 years old and disabled in any way to take care of myself and I sure think I am entitled to an increase. Now dear sir will you be so kind as to let me know how I can obtain it.”
Sadie died in 1935 at the age of fifty-three and Henry moved in with his stepson, Clarence Johnson, a well known musician. Clarence and his wife, Allie, made their home at 620 6th Avenue N. The Johnsons were Catholics, but faithfully drove Henry every Sunday to worship service at his own church, Zion Baptist, at 11th and Lyndale. Zion Baptist was an important part of the African American community in Minneapolis. The Johnsons also drove Henry to his regular GAR post meetings. Henry’s GAR comrades noted: “An own son or daughter could not have done more for him than did this step-son and his good wife …”. Clarence and Henry even traveled together, visiting New York and Washington in 1936.
The young boys, who lived in the near north of Minneapolis, came to know Henry Mack. Harry Davis remembers him as a nice man, who “ … liked kids, would always talk to us and play with us.” Davis added that Mack did not use vulgar language, unlike many of the men, who hung out on the avenue – a stretch frequented by bootleggers, racketeers and pimps. Kids never poked fun at Mack and the young men did not bother him. Harry remembers that the old man was as well versed on events as the educated people in the neighborhood.
The Minneapolis Spokesman featured Henry Mack’s 100th birthday on the front page of its July 9, 1937 issue. The reporter described Mack as:
“Still well and hearty, with eyes that need no glasses; with hearing unimpaired and an amazing appetite that refuses no good things to eat; with an excellent home in which he receives the most loving care, it would indeed be quite possible that many years are yet his to live … uses neither tobacco nor liquor.”
Mack shared his reminiscences of the South with the reporter, “ … recounted in a soft and pleasant drawl, reminiscent of the south from which he came and still loves …”.
Everyone knew from his regular appearances in parades that Henry Mack had been a soldier. While the boys never saw Mr. Mack wearing his uniform other than in parades, Jack Hyatt specifically remembers he and his buddies saying, “Here comes that old soldier.” That was how they knew him. Word among the boys in the ‘hood was that Mack was one hundred and thirteen years old! Hyatt remembers Mack as always being about, “poking along, moving slow”. They never saw him excited – which made Henry’s “march” to the recruiting office in June 1944 all the more striking.
The Federal Government began making a serious effort in 1935 to organize a final reunion of Civil War veterans. A government field examiner reported Henry as “ … up and about the house and has been feeling quite well.” The report noted, “He is saving his pension funds for the purpose of attending the Civil War Veterans Encampment …” Some Union veterans at first refused to meet with their former Confederate foes and Grand Army of the Republic members were among the most vehement in this regard. Opposition eventually faded away and the organizers prevailed. One thousand eight hundred forty-five aging veterans arrived at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in late June 1938 for the event. The Union contingent included fifty-eight African Americans and among them was Henry Mack of the Minnesota GAR. The Philadelphia Afro-American reported, “All traces of discrimination … were absent” at the reunion and accounts of African Americans who attended confirm this. The highlight of the reunion was the appearance of President Franklin Roosevelt on July 3 to dedicate the “Peace Eternal” flame.
The Second World War broke out one year after the Gettysburg reunion, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Hitler controlled the European mainland by mid 1940 and was threatening to conquer Britain. By the time that the Minneapolis Tribune and Star Journal honored Henry Mack on Memorial Day in 1941 as “Minnesota’s oldest living war veteran” at 104 years of age, everyone knew that war was imminent. Less than ten thousand African Americans made their home in the Twin Cities at the time, just over one percent of the population. Henry Mack’s honored position was important to the members of his African American community. The Minneapolis Spokesman of May 16, 1941 reported in a front page feature that Biddle Circle No. 38 of the Ladies of the GAR went to Henry Mack’s home “ … and gave him the Oath of Obligation in their Circle.” The article reported: “Comrade Mack entertained his group with several of his experiences during slavery days.”
The seventy-fifth annual encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic’s Department of Minnesota was held at the St. Paul Hotel on June 4, 1941. Henry Mack was among ten veterans in attendance. National membership in the GAR, which had been over one hundred thousand in 1920 and over twenty thousand in 1930, was barely one thousand. These remaining veterans were accorded a position of honor in their final years. Henry Mack became Patriotic Instructor for the Minnesota GAR for the coming year, which would prove to be an important position.
The Honorable Julius Schmahl of St. Paul addressed the seventy-fifth encampment. He delivered a history of the GAR in Minnesota and near the end of his speech shared a few remarks about each of the surviving veterans. Of Mack, he offered:
“Henry Mack of Minneapolis has rounded out 104 years, going on 105. His is a remarkable history, friends. He was born in slavery and continued in that condition for a number of years, when during the Civil War he was able to escape from his master … joined the Union troops … That distinguished colored man has ever been patriotic, he has been enthusiastic in his attendance at Post meetings and has required his daughter to drive him downtown to the meeting of the George A. Morgan Post, so that he could be there to show his spirit for the cause. Comrade Mack, Minnesota and this audience here in particular salutes you, especially on this occasion, for having reached that wonderful age in life’s history.”
The Johnny Baker VFW Post centered their annual Fourth of July celebration at Sumner Field around 104-year-old Henry Mack in 1941. The cake, which they presented Mack, was covered with one hundred and four candles. The Twin City Leader offered that Mack’s mind “ … is as bright as though he were fifty. He responds as readily to a joke as he must have back when we was making that long hike from Fort Leavenworth …”.
The Minnesota GAR veterans were determined to contribute when the United States entered the Second World War in December 1941. The 1942 encampment sent a letter of support to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which the president’s secretary gratefully acknowledged. Mack and four comrades participated in a large Flag Day parade in June, receiving a thundering applause from the crowd. The Minnesota GAR held a 105th birthday party for Henry Mack at their July 1, 1942 meeting. They presented Comrade Mack with many gifts, including a beautiful silk flag, and re-appointed him Patriotic Instructor for the coming year. The Morgan Relief Association gave Mack a birthday party two days later and the Sons of Veterans organized a musical program. In September, the State Fair honored the “Boys in Blue” with a special Patriotic Program. Three of the veterans, including Mack, attended a dinner in their honor and each offered some remarks.
Not everyone celebrated Henry’s 105th birthday with joy. One member of the GAR Ladies organization wrote the administrator of Veterans Affairs in Washington on July 2 to report:
“Mr. Mack has a foster son, married to a white woman, who claims Henry Mack is 105 this next 4th of July … there is a big ‘to do’ about it … our oldest was Andrew Larson of Willimar 102 next August 4th.”
It seems that Larson had positive proof of his age in the form of a Norwegian birth certificate. Another letter written two months later reiterated the argument and added: “We patriotic people have many opportunities to give Henry Mack all the honors to which he is rightfully entitled, the fact that he is colored, was a slave and the one and only veteran who really knew what that war meant, should be enough …”
The “issue” never developed and Minnesota continued to honor Henry Mack as its oldest veteran. Henry Mack missed the annual GAR reunion in Indianapolis that summer. The problem was arthritis, but not his own. Stepson Clarence, who was going to accompany Henry, had trouble with both feet and was unable to go. Allie Johnson told a reporter, “Dad could have gone on by himself but he just got out of the notion when his plans were upset … Why, he went alone last Monday to the State Fair, where he was a guest at the army day program. Dad said he knew he could get out there and march right up with the rest of them if he had to.”
The public appearances continued throughout the war. Henry Mack and three others addressed a gathering of the Jewish Veterans Legion Post in May 1943. The GAR men were in particular demand to appear at schools and take part in programs as Memorial Day approached. They attended Memorial Day services at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, were honored as guests of the American Legion Post and rode in autos in the Memorial Day parade. Henry Mack’s regular presence at public gatherings as a member of the Minnesota GAR served as a reminder to the people of the Twin Cities of the past role of African Americans in the defense of the nation and their willingness to serve.
Seven members attended the Minnesota GAR’s seventy-seventh encampment, held on June 9, 1943, at which they elected Henry Mack Junior Vice-Commander. The war effort was consuming the energy of the entire nation and African Americans again rushed to defend the nation. There was some question at first as to whether African Americans, serving in a segregated Army, would be allowed to fight. They wanted again to prove themselves. A front-page headline in the Spokesman in February 1944 proudly read, “99th Pursuit Squadron Downs 12 German Planes in Air Battle over Rome – Negro Flyers Finally Get Chance.” Among the African American fighter pilots was Harold Brown, a young man from Henry Mack’s neighborhood.
While African Americans began dying in combat, national and local leaders questioned how it was that the freedom, which their people were defending, could not truly by theirs. On Aug 20, 1943 in the midst of the war, Reverend E. A. Randall’s Monday afternoon radio program on WCCO addressed, “How the North lost the peace after winning the Civil War by giving up too easily in its efforts to force the South to give the Negro full equality and warnings not to let history repeat itself.” World- famous contralto and activist Paul Robeson visited the Twin Cities for six days in early December 1944 to perform in Shakespeare’s Othello at the Orpheum. Robeson’s contract specified that he would play only those cities “where there will be absolutely no discrimination or segregation in the audience.” He echoed the words of Frederick Douglass in an interview for the Minneapolis Spokesman, declaring, “ … the returning Negro servicemen … will want to feel he is a full citizen and he will resent any curtailment of his inalienable rights.” Through all of the national debate, Henry Mack’s regular appearances in his GAR uniform quietly demonstrated his own firm resolve.
Henry Mack was one of only three at the 1944 encampment held at Minneapolis’ Nicollet Hotel on June 7, 1944. The meeting began with an invocation, beseeching God’s blessing on the nation. Although nothing could suppress the indomitable spirit that characterized his life, Henry Mack was feeling his age. In his report as Junior Vice- Commander, a weary Henry Mack noted, “As the years pass and our ranks grow less and less there is less and less work for us to do.”
On December 18, 1944, just six months after making his way toward the Army recruiting station at the time of the landings at Normandy, Henry Mack fell at home and broke his hip. He entered the Veteran’s Hospital and never returned home. Henry, no doubt, followed the Battle of the Bulge that claimed so many American lives shortly after he entered the hospital. As the Allies were closing in on victory in Europe that spring, Henry Mack was failing from inactivity. He requested in one of his last conversations that “ .. when the time came for him to go and be with his comrades in heaven that the Grand Army take charge and that if his friend Rev. Ireland was in the city that he and the Theodor Petersen Am. Legion Post have the service and that the Sons of Veterans be there too.” He died late in the morning of April 8, 1945 from complications due to pneumonia .
C. D. Hibbard, manager of the VA Hospital, wrote Clarence Johnson to express its sympathy. The letter ended with: “ … he served his country and died honored and respected by all of us.” Henry’s comrades in the GAR wrote Hibbard “to express deep appreciation … for the great personal interest and kindly care and attention given to our beloved comrade and friend, Henry Mack.”
The funeral services were held at Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis on April 11, 1945. Major Chaplain Claud Ireland presided with the Theodor Petersen American Legion Post rendering the full Grand Army of the Republic military ritualistic service. His remains were laid to rest in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The Minnesota GAR acknowledged that Henry Mack’s stepson and daughter-in-law “ … gave to him every care and comfort possible during the many years he made his home with them.”
Henry Mack did not live to see President Harry Truman’s integration of the United States military before the next war or the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s that allowed African Americans to begin to realize their dream. He was one of countless individuals over the nation’s two hundred year history, who played a minor, but important, role in that long journey to freedom and equality. Henry Mack, by his longevity, was a regular reminder to the people of the Twin Cities of the past struggle, the long service of African Americans to the nation and the opportunity lost after the victory in the Civil War. The camaraderie and solidarity, which the members of the Minnesota GAR displayed among one another in their many public appearances, demonstrated how society could and should function among all Americans, regardless of the color of one’s skin. In the end, Henry Mack and his comrades in the venerable GAR helped to win more than one war.