Burleigh was sent to Camp Nelson, on the Kentucky River. Camp Nelson was the state's most important recruiting station and training camp for these newly freed volunteers.  Hundreds of wives, children, and parents had followed the recruits to Camp Nelson, but since Kentucky was still a slave state, the Camp was not a legal refuge for the dependents of soldiers who had once been slaves.  The soldiers became free men when they enlisted; their dependents remained slaves.  Camp Nelson's authorities sent many refugees back to their owners.  It seemed that only those who could fire a rifle or take a bullet were welcome at Camp Nelson.  

As Burleigh was being mustered out of the army in 1866, he met a man who changed his life - John G. Fee.  Fee, an abolitionist minister, had founded Berea College in 1859 but had not been able to open it before being driven from the state by Madison Countians who feared his radical views.  Fee intended to educate blacks and whites together at Berea and he invited Burleigh to become part of his bold new venture in interracial education.

In April 1866, still dressed in his Union uniform, Burleigh enrolled as Berea's first adult student of African descent.  The atmosphere at Berea - which at that time offered classes from kindergarten through college-level - was unique.  The student body was about half white and half black.  Black and white students studied, ate, prayed, and played together as equals.  They all worked campus jobs to pay for their education.  But, Berea was no heaven on earth and at times the racial tension was thick.  

In 1875, after nine years of work and study, A. A. Burleigh became the first black graduate of Berea College.  He spent the rest of his long life teaching and ministering in Indiana, New York, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, where he was appointed Chaplain of the Illinois State Senate.
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Performance History
About the Performer
A. A. Burleigh
1848 - 1939

For eleven years, Angus Augustus (A. A.) Burleigh was right in the mainstream of American history, first as a soldier, then as a student.  This son of an English sea captain grew up as a slave in Kentucky after his fathers death.  In August 1864, at age sixteen, he made his way to a recruiting station in Frankfort, Kentucky where he enlisted in the Union Army.  Escaping to volunteer was a risky venture for a slave in Kentucky because the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slaves held in states loyal to the Union.  Kentucky was one such state.