Black Guards Living Installation
Asata Radcliffe in collaboration with Jordan Carey, Fred Greenhalgh, Reggie Hodges, Annabelle Richardson, Marco Soulo.
The Black Guards were Black American army soldiers who were sent to guard the railways of Maine during WWII, from 1942-1946. The purpose of their deployment to Maine was to prevent terrorist attacks along the railways to keep Maine citizens safe. Very little is known about the presence of the Black Guards in Maine and Black Guards Living will act as a temporary archive installation that depicts the significance of their contribution to Maine history. During their time in Maine, the Black Guards were stationed throughout the state, including Onawa, Morkill, Greenville, North Yarmouth, and many other train depots throughout Maine.
This Kindling Fund grant will support the second phase of this exhibit, the Black Guards Living Installation. This distinct installation of a train boxcar will act as set-piece with the soldiers’ personal objects carefully placed inside as representations of the historical realities the Black Guards faced during their time stationed in Maine. Visitors will be able to enter the boxcar and inhabit the space. When the guards were stationed at the railway depots, they didn’t have housing, thus they were forced to live in wooden boxcars and/or a caboose, depending upon the location. They lived in these boxcars year-round, without running water, and enduring harsh winters. The planned location site will be on the tracks near the Maine Gauge Railroad museum site. The purpose of the timing of the installation during the winter months is to bring home how it may have felt to live in a boxcar in the winter. This visceral experience will hopefully generate a reflective and connecting experience between the visitor and the Black Guards. The public will have the chance to enter the boxcar, view the items on display, as well as sit in the space to have time to experience the objects.
While the visitor is in the boxcar, the audio recording of the Black Guards will be on a continuous loop. This recording will include conversations the guards may have had reflective of their relationships with each other and experiences that they may have encountered while stationed in Maine. The playing of the recording grounds the visitor in the historical experience, almost emitting the invisible and haunting impressions of this past. For the audience, to inhabit this living space of a boxcar also represents the experience of segregation of Black people in the U.S. during WWII. Even as American soldiers protecting Maine citizens, they were forced to live “away” from the Maine communities, and forced into an inhumane living situation.
Like Radcliffe, these soldiers were “from away." It is the intention of the artist to highlight the soldiers’ day-to-day living experiences during their stay here (1942-1946). This exploration has helped the artist to make connections to the historical contributions made by these Black army soldiers. It is vital to showcase the Black Guards not only as American citizens and as heroes but to ensure their contributions are acknowledged and properly archived as an important addition to Maine history.