New Bedford’s Connection to Boston’s 54th Regiment Memorial
I'm filled with New Bedford pride, especially so on this day.
On June 1, 2022, as descendants of local Civil War heroes and others looked on, there was a re-dedication of the restored, sculpted memorial to abolitionist Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the famous, fully authorized, all-volunteer Black Civil War 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
Located opposite the Massachusetts State House on the Boston Common, the story of New Bedford's prominence during that period of enslavement is immortalized within the beautiful bronze, bas-relief shrine.
It's being described as one of the 10 monuments that changed America, and its connections to New Bedford are awe-inspiring.
Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who became a storied "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, lived in New Bedford and served Col. Shaw his last meal. She actually stood before the same landmark over 115 years ago, remembering her service as a nurse, a Union spy, and a cook who worked for Col. Shaw in preparation for the blood-soaked assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, that dispelled any doubt about the fighting ability of Black soldiers.
That's the same attack that New Bedford's Sgt. William Carney, the first Black Medal of Honor recipient – one of 93 to date – valiantly kept the flag from ever touching the ground. In 1897, when the sculpture was unveiled, Sgt. Carney also stood before it; today, Carney's spirit is enshrined in the restored monument.
The New Bedford connection speaks through liberator Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and later settled here for a while. Douglass's stature and importance is centermost in the story that the memorial imparts.
Watching the re-dedication ceremony, I felt the New Bedford glory in the narrative that speaks through the power the monument represents, and gives us hope.
This summer, take the kids to this masterpiece. Let them know that it's a reminder about standing against injustice, and that the work of freedom is a battle that will be won – but only if we continue building upon the legacy and achievement that the Robert Gould Shaw 54th Infantry Regiment Memorial symbolizes.