Emmett Sykes of 54th Regiment Volunteers Infantry Re-enactors
Robert Gould Shaw, the son of a prominent Boston abolitionist, was assigned to lead the 54th Infantry Regiment of the US Army into battle during the Civil War. The 54th was the first black regiment formed in Massachusetts after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st 1863. It was a magnet for black patriots from around the country as free men and former slaves from 24 states including five southern states came to Massachusetts to join the regiment, which grew to include 1007 black soldiers and 37 white officers.
On July 18, 1863 the regiment attacked Fort Wagner on Morris Island in the harbor at Charleston, SC. Shaw and 74 soldiers were killed in that battle and subsequently buried together in a mass grave. Despite the losses, the battle was considered a victory because of the valor and skill of its black soldiers who had previously been regarded as inferior to whites. In the parlance of the day, they had covered themselves with glory.
Today we tend not to speak about military glory, preferring instead to talk about soldiers’ sacrifice, their commitment to ideals, and how they safeguard our freedom. War is a brutal business, dirty and spectacular in its degradation not glorification of men. Yet the 1989 film “Glory” starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman inspired many people including Emmett Sykes, in high school at the time and now the president of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry Re-enactors.
Located at 1295 River St. in Hyde Park, Sykes’ group is proud to serve the community as a living memory. The original 54th, decommissioned in 1865 after the Civil War, was stationed in barracks at Camp Meigs in Readville, a nearby Hyde Park neighborhood. In spite of a full time job, Sykes manages to keep hours three days a week at the group’s office. Sykes is especially pleased that the re-enactors have been chosen from a multitude of applicants to participate in events at the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on January 20th. When they return home, they will do what they have been doing since 1992, re-enacting battles, visiting schools, churches, libraries and other community groups to educate people, exhibit the uniforms, the weaponry and their own commitment to the ideals of freedom that were instrumental in the formation of the original 54th.
If you are interested in joining the re-enactors, volunteering your time, or donating, you can reach Mr. Sykes at 617-333-9970 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the 54th Volunteer Infantry Re-enactors live at the Hyde Park Library during the February school vacation. Contact the library for more info: 617-361-2524