As protests over the horrific police killing of George Floyd devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson across America, destroying black lives and livelihoods, rioters targeted Civil War monuments, specifically those honoring figures from the Confederacy like Robert E. Lee. In Boston, however, rioters vandalized a memorial to black patriots who risked their lives to fight for the Union and against race-based slavery. Oops!
Rioters vandalized the Robert Gould Shaw 54th Regiment monument, which celebrates the first all-volunteer black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War.
“A thousand men signed up just after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, just think about that,” Liz Vizza, executive director of Friends of the Public Garden, told ABC affiliate WCVB. “These are men who, if they were captured in the South, would be enslaved or murdered. But this cause was so important to them, they signed up to go fight for their freedom.”
The monument stands across from the Massachusetts State House. The monument is currently covered in plywood to protect it during restoration to reinforce the sword held by Robert Gould Shaw. Rioters covered the plywood in obscene graffiti and spray-painted more obscenities along with the message “R.I.P. George Floyd” on the back of the monument.
#BlackLivesMatter protestors deface #Shaw54thRegimentMemorial at #BostonCommon #ArtNews: Memorial by #AugustusSaintGaudens (1848–1907), dedicated to #AfricanAmerican men who fought in #CivilWar as #54thRegiment under Union officer #RobertGouldShaw—covered by #BLM graffiti. pic.twitter.com/SUnoIl1mMo
— Mark Vallen (@mark_vallen) June 3, 2020
Tragically, the memorial had been vandalized previously with paint in 2012. Shaw’s sword has been broken off twice, in 2015 and 2017.
This vandalism reminds me of the vandalism against the World War II Memorial. Amidst the rioting, vandals spray-painted “Do black vets count?” on one of my favorite memorials in Washington, D.C. The answer is an unreserved “YES!” Black Americans fought against the Nazis and the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. They helped bring victory in that central civilizational conflict, and that very memorial honors their sacrifice. It is utterly disgraceful for vandals to tarnish monuments to their sacrifice.
While I oppose the removal of even most Confederate monuments — especially those honoring Robert E. Lee, a consummate general who worked to heal the Union after the Civil War — I find this vandalism beyond the pale.
Although the Confederate flag often represents Southern pride today, rather than white supremacy or race-based slavery, the Confederacy was founded after a decade of Southern politicians pushing to expand slavery into the federal territories. Lincoln did not call for the abolition of slavery before the war, he called for stopping the expansion of the racist institution into the territories. Only later did the war become a war for abolition, and at that time, these brave black patriots volunteered to fight for the Union and the Constitution.
Defacing their memory does not help the cause of black lives in America. Rather, this episode shows once again that black lives, black livelihoods, black memories, and black history are among the victims of this horrific rioting, looting, and vandalism.
Antifa instigators should be ashamed of themselves.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.