Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas
detail: Douglass' Kansas Colored Light Artillery Battery (Union) Soldiers, cotton quilt, 2011

The First Colored Troops of Kansas

July 21 - September 18, 2011 | Lobby Gallery

In the spring term of 2011 Marla Jackson, a Lawrence, Kansas, quilt artist, worked with Central Junior High ninth-graders in Michel Loomis’ English class to produce a collaborative quilt on the topic of the first U.S. Colored Troops of Kansas. The quilt that they created together portrays a specific group of soldiers from the first infantry of African American troops. The quilt is called Douglass’ Kansas Color Light Artillery Battery (Union) Soldiers, and it is the centerpiece of this exhibition. Twenty-one students participated and helped to make the quilt under Jackson’s guidance. The exhibition will include additional quilts by Jackson alone that evoke related themes.

In 1862, on the order of General James H. Lane, Kansas military leaders recruited a regiment of colored soldiers from within the state, an action that preceded the Union’s overall recruitment of such individuals. The response from Kansas was swift and substantial. Despite some opposition, 500 colored volunteers were mustered into service in January, 1863; indeed, they fought an October battle at Island Mound, Missouri, even before they were officially sworn in.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment from a northern state and served effectively in the Indian Territory-Kansas-Arkansas region. Over the course of 1864, they fought a number of battles, most notably Poison Spring in April, 1864, when the regiment took serious losses in defending a Union supply train. Overall, a quarter of the regiment’s soldiers died during the war.

The regiment was noteworthy in becoming the first Negro unit to fight alongside American Indian and white troops, foreshadowing military actions in the future.

Marla Jackson is a nationally recognized quilt artist and teacher. Her story-quilts have been exhibited nationally, including at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. She is an active participant in the Women of Color Quilters Network. Her workshops with children such as those at Central Junior High School have been awarded external funding through grants she has earned.. A filmmaker is currently creating a documentary about Jackson’s work. Michel Loomis is an award-winning teacher and longtime faculty member at Central Junior High School in Lawrence.