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The Museum of African American History is dedicated to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England from the colonial period through the 19th century.

 

 

 

Image: Experience the newly restored African Meeting House - click on image to learn more about this historic restoration.

 


Image: Shaw/54th Memorial photo

Site 1
Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial
Beacon and Park Streets
Boston Common

Responding to pressure from black and white abolitionists, President Lincoln admitted black soldiers into the Union forces in 1863. The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment to be recruited in the North.

Robert Gould Shaw, a young white officer from a prominent Boston family, volunteered for its command. The 54th Regiment trained in Readville (in the present day Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston).

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Regiment became famous for leading an assault on Fort Wagner as part of operations to capture the Confederate city of Charleston, South Carolina. In the hard-fought battle Shaw and many members of the regiment were killed.

Sergeant William Carney of New Bedford was wounded three times in saving the American flag from Confederate capture. Carney's bravery earned him the distinction of the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. A photographic reproduction of the 54th's saved national flag is on display across the street in the State House's Hall of Flags.

For 18 months of service, the 54th Regiment refused to accept a salary lower than their white counterparts. Ultimately, Congress relented and increased their pay retroactively. This high-relief bronze memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment was erected through a fund established by Joshua B. Smith in 1865. Smith, a fugitive slave from North Carolina, was a caterer, former employee of the Shaw household, and a state representative from Cambridge.

The sculpture is by August Saint-Gaudens, and the architectural setting by McKim, Mead and White. The monument was dedicated on May 31, 1897 in ceremonies that included Carney, veterans of the 54th and 55th Regiments, the 5th Calvary, and several speakers, including Booker T. Washington.

The inscription on the reverse side of the monument was written by Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard University.

The 62 names listed on the lower portion of the monument are those soldiers who died during the assault on Fort Wagner. They were added in 1982.

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