Living… for the next battle. Rawlins’ life changed after the Battle of Antietam, where he saved Robert Shaw and sent him to a field hospital. After his recovery, Shaw met Frederick Douglass and was then offered control of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. When it was time to assemble his troops, Rawlins was on the top of Shaw’s list.
Profession… former gravedigger and current noncommissioned officer in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He’s the highest ranked African-American in the regiment, and takes a large share of responsibilities, including training his fellow soldiers when their official trainer, Major Mulchany, treats them like animals.
Interests... being the voice of reason for both the black troops and the white officers. Shaw asked Rawlins to be a communicator between him and the black troops. His presence is integral is fostering communication between more temperamental soldiers like Private Trip and Shaw. This enables Shaw to enact real changes, like demanding equal pay and equal access to resources for black troops.
Relationship Status... unknown. Rawlins’ focus is squarely on the fate of his troops and the cause they’re fighting for.
Challenge… gaining the respect of his fellow soldiers while keeping them in line. John is frustrated not only by the lack of respect from his white superiors, but from the black soldiers in his troop as well: “And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you've been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain't dying. And dying's been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now! Dying by the thousands! Dying for you, fool! I know, 'cause I dug the graves. And all this time I keep askin' myself, when, O Lord, when it's gonna be our time? Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. Like men!”
Personality… patriotic. John is fully committed to the mission and willing to give his life for the cause. He shows unwavering courage because he knows his mission is bigger than himself. “Now I run off, leaving all my young'uns and my kinfolk, in bondage. So I'm standing here this evening, Heavenly Father, to ask your blessings on all of us. So that if tomorrow is the great getting-up morning, if that tomorrow we have to meet the Judgment Day, O Heavenly Father, we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want 'em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want 'em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom! We ask these blessings in Jesus' name. Amen!”
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