5. Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial

Street or Other Address: Boston Common at Massachusetts State House

Nearest Corner: Beacon and Park Streets

Digital and Degree Coordinates: 42.357467,-71.063567; N42 21.448 W71 03.814

View Robert Gould Shaw and 54 Regiment Memorial and Statehouse. 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 Massachusetts state representative from Cambridge from 1873 to 1874..

The sculpture is by August Saint-Gaudens.. 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.

View State House:  Built in 1798, the "new" State House was built on land was once owned by Massachusetts first elected governor, John Hancock. The hill was lowered 50 feet before the State House was built. Charles Bullfinch, the leading architect of the day, designed the building.

The dome, originally made out of wood shingles, is now sheathed in copper and covered by 23 karat gold which was added to prevent leaks into the State House.

In the House of Representatives chambers hangs a wooden codfish which is called the Sacred Cod. The Sacred Cod signifies the importance of the fishing industry to the Commonwealth. At the top of the golden dome sits a wooden pinecone which symbolizes logging in Boston during the 18th century.  Boston is famously known as the “home of the bean [a reference to Boston Baked Beans] and the cod.”

On April 22, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature. There is no known recording of the speech, but at the end he repeated, almost verbatim, the closing words of his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in Washington two years before. “We will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.’ ”

On that April day in 1965, Michael Dukakis future Governor and Presidential candidate was a young member of the Massachusetts House, representing Brookline. “I don’t remember the details of the speech…but I certainly remember that he spoke to us and that it was an extraordinary event for us,” Dukakis said. “He was a presence that’s hard to describe. He was just a very powerful presence and you felt that and sensed that.”

Image: 
latitude: 
42.36
longitude: 
-71.06