Honoring the legacy of a local service man, scout leader and pillar of the community.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the sight of a troop of Black Civil War re-enactors at a local historical event, you can thank Joseph H. Lee, a co-founder of the “3rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops” (along with Larry Harris). The group promotes living history to present and preserve the important role that freedom fighters of African decent played in defending our Union.
Lee, affectionately known to many as “Pippy,” unfortunately passed away on October 17, 2021 (the exact same date of his mother’s passing in 1992).
He and Harris first came up with the idea when they took a boy scout troop to Fort Mifflin to take part in a cannon firing demonstration. They discovered that an all Black regiment had served out of Camp William Penn.
Lee’s history of service included the U.S. Air Force (he enrolled after graduating from NE High School in 1963) and, after 5 years, joining the U.S. Marines. It was during his service that he developed a lifelong passion for fencing, which he taught to the boys in his scout troops.
A faithful member of the Zoar United Methodist Church, he was the first to arrive at services and the last to leave. He also served on several ministries.
Despite his godly nature, he enjoyed making jokes and giving those he loved nicknames, including “Baby Sis,” “Jughead,” “Lil Country Niece,” “Big Head Turkey,” and “Stinkalene.” 😄
He was loved by many and will be missed, but his legacy of giving and contribution to Black military history lives on.
3rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops — When the Civil War began in 1861, men of African descent were forbidden by law to join the Federal Army; interestingly, they were welcome in the Navy, where sailors can serve without possessing a firearm (an alarming thing in those days). But this changed in 1862 when Congress passed The Militia Act, and small regiments of Black soldiers organized in Kansas, South Carolina and Louisiana. Then with the Emancipation Proclamation the next year, President Lincoln ordered his field commanders to receive Black men into all branches of armed service. For the rest of the war, African American soldiers would participate in every major battle and earn the respect of top generals across the country.
Zoar United Methodist Church — Disaffected Black members of St. George’s (the oldest US Methodist church in continuous use) founded their own congregation that would evolve into a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the Bible, the city of Zoar was a place of refuge for Lot & his daughters after the destruction of Sodom. Philadelphia’s Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church has provided the Black community sanctuary here for more than 220 years. The church has a long history of service — it was a stop on the Underground Railroad — and has continuously been a hub for African Americans to find healthcare, home loans, education and spiritual connection. In 2020, Mother African Zoar UMC relocated from 1204 Melon Street to 3359 N. Broad, where they merged with New Vision UMC under the leadership of Reverend William Brawner.
Lenora Gaillard is a community engagement volunteer at Tabor Services and a correspondent for The Local (focusing on community and Senior-related issues). She’s a longtime resident of Germantown.