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Soldier from Massillon prominently positioned in both Civil War and Black history

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Posted at 5:17 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 08:35:44-05

MASSILLON, Ohio — He was turned away because of the color of his skin, but instead of accepting the rejection, a young Black man tried and tried again.

Robert Pinn's three attempts to serve his country in the Civil War, along with his bravery in battle, catapulted the Northeast Ohio native into the spotlight.

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To learn more about the man, we traveled to Massillon as News 5 continues to celebrate Black History Month.

Pinn, the son of an escaped slave, was born a free man in Perry Township in 1843.

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At the start of the Civil War the teen tried to enlist in the Union Army.

"Unfortunately, at the time he was not allowed, as a Black man, to join the military," said Mandy Altimus Stahl with the Massillon Museum.

Pinn's desire to serve his country was so great that the 18-year-old pretended to be Puerto Rican.

“It was found out he was in fact an African-American and so he was removed from service," said Stahl.

Pinn finally received his chance two years later as a member of the Fifth United States Colored Troop Unit.

“He found himself at New Market Heights fighting outside of Richmond," said Stahl.

During that battle, the commander was taken out, and Pinn was hit twice.

“Second time he was unable to walk, and he ordered his men to carry him forward in the battle," said Stahl.

That set Pinn up to be wounded a third time, which knocked him unconscious.

“He obviously was not going to let something like a wound stop him from leading his troops into battle," said Stahl.

President Abraham Lincoln awarded Pinn with the Congressional Medal of Honor for the valor he showed during the fight.

“Basically, this battle was a test of the Black troops that yes, Black troops will fight as valiantly as other Union forces," said Stahl.

Pinn is not only a prominent figure in Civil War history, he is well-positioned in Black history.

Pinn returned to Massillon and eventually passed the Ohio State Bar.

That paved the way for him to become the first Black lawyer in Massillon County in 1879.

The Ohio National Guard helped him make history again after dedicating a new armory in his honor, “which was the first armory to be named for a Black man," Stahl said.

Pinn's legacy in Massillon is also noteworthy.

He helped local civil war soldiers get their pensions.

For those who passed away and were buried in pauper's graves, he was instrumental in getting the Massillon Cemetery to install markers for all its Civil War soldiers, "to make sure that all of those Union soldiers were recognized and marked as having served their country," said Stahl.

Pinn died in 1911 after a distinguished teaching and law career.

He too is buried at Massillon Cemetery.

Pinn's story is just one of many from the Black community that the Massillon Museum is currently trying to better understand.

“We are starting a project called 'Missing History of Massillon' and we are going to be seeking interviews, photographs, stories, anything that we can help to document, which will eventually become part of an exhibit, to celebrate this wonderful and rich history," said Stahl.