Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Shaw Memorial, 1900
The bronze memorial commemorates the Massachusetts 54th infantry – the first regiment to allow African Americans in battle during The Civil War. At the start of the war, they were not permitted to fight, but, following The Emancipation Proclamation, recruits from states across the nation showed up to fight for the Union. The 54th Massachusetts were defeated at Fort Wagner, and around half the men were killed, but their valor demonstrated in battle advanced civil rights. By the war’s end, African Americans comprised 10 percent of all Union forces. The detailed facial features in the memorial served to humanize black men in a period of racial stereotypes and generalizations. The National Gallery of Art’s piece is a bronze cast of the original, which resides in Boston.
National Gallery of Art, 6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565