Black Americans had a point to prove, and during the Civil War they did. First they fought for the right to fight when many whites did not want them to take up arms, and then they fought and died for a cause bigger than themselves. Within the Union ranks were 200,000 black soldiers–nearly 10 percent of the Union’s 2 million troops. One of the most famous companies of black soldiers was the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Scenes from the movie Glory show the company’s assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina and the heroic action of Sgt. William Carney. Carney took the flag from the stricken color bearer, planted it on the fort, and retrieved it when his company retreated. K Company, 54th Massachusetts Infantry reenactors Ray Wozniack, James Hayes, and Bob English describe the difficulties faced by black soldiers and their white officers and discuss Sergeant Carney as a true American hero. Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The segment concludes with footage of the memorial to the men of the 54th, erected more than 100 years ago in Boston. The inscription makes it clear that black soldiers did indeed prove their point. It reads: “Together they gave proof that Americans of African descent possess the pride, courage, and devotion of the Patriot soldier.”
Teacher tip: Discuss why black Americans believed they had to prove themselves and what they wanted to prove by fighting in the Civil War. Come to a class consensus about their success in doing so.