Film Showcases Ithaca’s Black Union Soldiers

By Dan Verderosa, July 29, 2019
IC community members contribute to locally produced “Civil Warriors.”

On a small patch of grass on Cleveland Avenue in downtown Ithaca, nestled between the historic St. James AME Zion Church and a private residence, lies a monument memorializing the 26 black residents of Tompkins County who volunteered to fight for the Union during the American Civil War. This little-known piece of Ithaca history is brought to light in “Civil Warriors,” a locally made film with strong connections to Ithaca College.

Making “Civil Warriors” was a true community effort. Based on a play by Ithaca playwright and historian Carol Kammen, the film was produced by PhotoSynthesis Productions, a local film studio and media production company. Sean Eversley Bradwell, director of IC’s Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change (IDEAS), narrates the film. Several IC students worked on the production as research assistants or interns, and the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers, led by IC associate professor Baruch Whitehead, contributed to the soundtrack. Alumnus David Huntley ’88 served as cinematographer, and Paula Younger, the college’s executive director for government and community relations, helped promote the film in the local community and beyond.

“People talk about a labor of love; this was a labor of commitment,” said Eversley Bradwell. “Commitment to the community in telling this story. I’m very impressed with the resilience and long-term dedication to making sure that this story gets told.”

The production took about 10 years in total. Eversley Bradwell became involved in the project when he saw an early version of the film and recommended to co-producer and co-director Deborah Hoard that more historical context was needed.

“I was intrigued by people who were emancipated and were willing to put their lives on the line to help other folks gain their freedom,” Eversley Bradwell said. “That was a very powerful message to me.”

To shape his narration, Eversley Bradwell dove deep into the history of the Civil War and race and slavery in Tompkins County. Martin Luther King Scholar Zihui Adams ’17, M.S. ’18, worked as his research assistant. Filmed at the Ithaca City Cemetery and African American Civil War Museum and Monument in Washington, D.C., Eversley Bradwell’s narration bookends the film’s three 20-minute sections.

IC alumnus Christian Conyers ’18 worked on the film as an intern at PhotoSynthesis Productions. He edited behind-the-scenes footage for “Civil Warriors” and helped publicize the film on social media.

A group of men in U.S. Civil War uniforms

“Civil Warriors” tells the story of four African-American men from Tompkins County who volunteered to fight in the American Civil War, and the impact it had on their families.

“It is a film that many people need to see,” Conyers said. “The more we hear about these soldiers’ untold stories, the more we see how many meaningful changes black people have made in U.S. history, while facing the hardships of racism and discrimination along the way.”

In addition to narrating the film, Eversley Bradwell also had a hand in developing a curriculum for educators to use in conjunction with the film. He had conversations with curriculum author Bronwen Exter, a social studies teacher in the Ithaca City School District, about the messages they wanted students to take away from the film.

“I think the reason why we study history is that it comes back at some point in time, relatively soon,” Eversley Bradwell said. “We shouldn’t just look at it as something that happened in the past, but as something that can use to learn about the present and the future.”

The film and curriculum have been used in several classes in the Ithaca City School District, and Eversley Bradwell is working to get it in schools as far away as Georgia. “While the location is absolutely important and there’s no doubt that young people in Ithaca are inspired to hear this story, its reach is far greater than Tompkins County,” he said.

Learn more

For more information about “Civil Warriors,” visit