The Naturalization Tree Monument Re-Dedication Ceremony September 20, 2015

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On Sunday, September 20th, 2015, Metro Councilman Steve Magre will be presenting the Re-Dedication Ceremony for The Naturalization Tree Monument in Camp Zachary Taylor Park in Louisville Ky.

Nat Tree Monument Sign lo-res This sign will be installed at the Monument’s new location. The soldiers in this image are Foreign Born Men of the 23rd Company, 159th Depot Brigade, who were granted US Citizenship at Camp Zachary Taylor. They are proudly wearing full combat gear, standing in front of The Naturalization Tree, the symbol of their new citizenship.

The Naturalization Tree at Camp Zachary Taylor, was a sprawling North American Ash Tree that once stood along Lee Avenue, near Grove Avenue. It stood approximately 300 yards from where the Monument is in now located at 1630 Taylor Avenue. It was a mature ash tree that stood for many decades after the Monument was placed, but unfortunately, was struck by lightning and taken down. All that remains is the marker, which was erected by The Daughters of the American Revolution, and formally dedicated on November 11, 1921.

The Congressional “Act of 1862” permitted “Any Alien of the age of 21 and upwards, who has enlisted, or may enlist in the armies of the United States during war time, upon honorable discharge shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States”. At the onset of the United States entering World War 1, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of May 22, 1917, which amended the 1862 law to read “Any Alien who may under existing law, become citizens of the US with 1 year of Military Service”. The preceding requirement was 4 years’ service. However, it specifically excluded this right to all those of Asian descent.

The “Act of May 9, 1918” again amended the law to “provide immediate naturalization of alien soldiers as US citizens upon enlistment“, and was expanded to include Filipino and Porto Rican nationals. It was not until “The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1953” that all Asian’s were granted this right.

On Wednesday, October 2, 1918, 400 alien soldiers at Camp Zachary Taylor, swore allegiance to the United States. The ceremony that granted these men citizenship to the United States of America, took place under the crown of the mature ash tree on the slope of Flag Hill. Seventeen nationalities were represented that day.

bildeA swearing in ceremony under The Naturalization Tree, 1918

Gilmore Jacob Gayle, a native of Kingston Jamaica, was one of those individuals who received citizenship that day. He was a citizen of Great Brittan, a graduate of the University of Illinois, and was fluent in several languages. He was the first black man to be sworn in as a US Citizen at Camp Zachary Taylor. Gayle was a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Training School (FACOTS) that was being conducted at Camp Zachary Taylor.

Shortly after his naturalization as a US citizen, Gayle received a commission in the 814th Pioneer Infantry Division (AKA The Black Devil’s) at Camp Zachary Taylor.

From October 2, 1918 to October 12, 1918, three ceremonies were held where 2365 soldiers took the oath of citizenship. Approximately 4000 soldiers were eventually naturalized at Camp Zachary Taylor in 1918. Of the 546,490 foreign born nationals who were granted citizenship in the USA from 1918-1920, 244,300 became United States citizens while enlisted in the US armed forces.

NYT Naturalization Tree-1

In January 1921,The Naturalization Tree was one of 10 tree’s inducted into the American Forestry Association’s “Tree Hall of Fame“. On January 14, 1921, the New York Tribune printed a full page article describing all 10 trees. It stated that The Naturalization Tree was selected because “more aliens have taken the oath of allegiance under its branches than under other tree in the world“. The tree certainly was famous across the US following WW1.

We take great pride in announcing this re-dedication ceremony 94 years after it was first dedicated. The ceremony starts at 4:30, and other activities are planned after the re-dedication. Thanks to everyone involved who helped to make this possible.