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Jan 16

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this day commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d like to recognize the efforts of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Authorized in March 1863 by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, the 54th was among the first official black units in the United States during the Civil War. Governor Andrew hand-picked Colonel Robert Gould Shaw to lead the 54th, and the unit received ample supp…ort from northern abolitionists in the form of clothing, flags, and equipment.

Though the 54th began its tenure engaged in physical labor, it quickly gained recognition for its stalwart efforts. Its most significant engagement occurred at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner near Charleston, SC. Colonel Shaw died in this battle, alongside 53 of his men. 15 were captured, 52 missing, and 149 wounded. Though the South eventually repelled the North, the 54th was lauded for its valor.

Their efforts are credited for encouraging further enlistment of African-American troops. One soldier, William Harvey, was awarded the Medal of Valor some 37 years later, for grabbing the U.S. flag as its bearer fell and shouting, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!”

The legacy of the 54th is immortalized in the 1989 film “GLORY,” directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman.

 

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