Meeting an Actor
A tall man stood in front of me at the reenactment last weekend in Waynesboro, VA. We had a pleasant conversation, though I wasn’t following everything he referenced. Then he explained his unique perspective. He is David Foster, actor. He was Captain Ricketts in Gods and Generals, and the 2nd Lincoln, the congressman, in Killing Lincoln. He showed me “the Lincoln walk.” He told me how modern cinematology can use a series of old photos to recreate movements. He studied the movements and the walk for his part as Lincoln in Mercy Street, on PBS.
When researching the era’s position on race relations, he came upon a story of the first black cadet enrolled at West Point Academy. James Webster Smith of South Carolina was admitted in 1870. The Academy didn’t want him to succeed and tried everything to make him fail, but he was an outstanding cadet who ranked well. When it came time for him to graduate and receive his commission, the Academy couldn’t have it, so they said he’d cheated on a history test and expelled him in 1874.
Foster was so astounded, he told his young son, “I’m going to show you how Americans right wrongs.”
He called his congressmen and arranged a meeting. He went to West Point and researched the archives. He went to Washington. It took a couple of years, but the great-great-granddaughter of the cadet was formally received at West Point’s graduation where she was given his diploma and his commission posthumously.
“Of all I’ve accomplished in my life, I’m proudest of that,” he told me.
He doesn’t live in Hollywood. He lives in the real world. Thank you, Mr. Foster, for righting that wrong.