Black History Month 2022

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Fighting to End Slavery: Massachusetts 54th



Charleston, South Carolina - It was cold and windy for the men of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, this Christmas day. Many were in a sour mood. They were in combat. They missed their families, friends, and sweethearts.

Encamped on Morris Island, on the outskirts of Charleston, the men watched the Union shelling of the besieged city.

Our rifles had sounded their fearful Christmas chimes by throwing shells into the city for three hours after one o'clock that morning, recalled Capt. Luis F. Emilio. He added, 'About 3 a.m. a fire broke out in Charleston which illumined the whole sky and destroyed twelve buildings before it was subdued, the falling walls injuring many firemen.'

Emilio, a white Salem, Mass., native, who had just turned 19 three days earlier, had been the acting commander of the regiment for some time following the famed attack on Fort Wagner that July.

From storming the fort on July 18th, Col. Robert Gould Shaw was killed, the regiment's first commander. Two Berkshire County men were killed in the failed attack. One was Henry Burghardt, of Lee. The other was Pittsfield native Eli Franklin. Burghardt was killed in action. Franklin died from his battle wounds, two (2) days later.

In September, Edward Needles Hallowell became the new commander of the 54th. Hallowell was wounded during the Fort Wagner battle, as Shaw's second in command.

That same month, the Confederates abandoned Fort Wagner. That helped open the way for the siege of Charleston.

For months after the attack, the soldiers' spirits were high. They knew they had proved their valor. It showed the fighting ability of all their Black brothers. Yet, by Christmas, after months of seeing no real action, they were feeling low.

'The whole face of nature now presents a drear and gloomy appearance, and the thousands who a month or two ago were full of hope and expectation have gradually come down to that frame of mind so well adapted to wait till something turns up,' commented Cpl. James Henry Gooding, a Black American soldier from the 54th, in a December 1863 letter to the New Bedford (Conn.) Mercury.

The entire month, both the weather and the men's spirits, had been overcast and dreary. There was the shooting of a white deserter from a New Hampshire regiment. The men were required to watch. The same month there was an explosion. It killed several soldiers.

The Confederates steadily attacked the Union. But, it was unusual for a shell to make it into the Union fortifications. This time, a magazine was being repaired by engineers. That made it vulnerable. The shell fell among munitions that went off. Four (4) were killed. Eleven (11) were seriously wounded, according to Gooding.

Added to these events were the continued problems with the men's pay.

The enlisted men of the 54th and its brother regiment, the 55th, fought to get the $13 a month they were due. Government paymasters, cited an 1862 law. They would only pay $7.

Christmas was a subdued affair. For Thanksgiving, the men attended a rousing church service and enjoyed a festive meal. It was followed by an afternoon filled with games. There were sack races and money for the first man to make it to the top of a greased pole.

In contrast, the highlight of Christmas Day was the arrival of letters from home.


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Charles Stuart Framed Black Man



Boston, Massachusetts - Charles Stuart killed his wife and blamed a Black American man for it. Stuart, and his wife Carol, were white. After a pregnancy class, he claimed he drove through Roxbury, a Black American area of Boston.

At a stoplight, he said a Black American man forced his way in the car. Stuart said the man told them to drive to Mission Hill. It was nearby. There, Stuart said the man robbed them. Stuart said this man shot him in the stomach and his wife in the head.

Carol died hours after the shooting. The baby was born premature. His name was Christopher. He died seventeen (17) days later. Stuart was in the hospital for weeks after the shooting.

The story made national headlines. Boston police workers used stop-and-frisk on many innocent Black American men, on the word of Stuart. William Bennett, a Black American man, was jailed by the Boston Police, in the search for the killer.

On December 28, 1989, Stuart said Bennett shot him and his wife. On January 3, 1990, Matthew, the brother of Charles, told the police it was all a lie. Matthew said it was an insurance scam. He had met Charles that night. There, he told Matthew he killed his wife.

On January 4, 1990, Charles Stuart jumped off the Tobin Bridge in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His body was found the next day.


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