|54th Regiment to be inducted into Hall of Black Achievement
By BETH DAVID
The Massachusetts 54th Regiment was organized in 1863 to fight in the Civil War. That famous regiment is this year's inductee into the Massachusetts Hall of Black Achievement at Bridgewater State College.
One of the first black units organized in the Northern states, the 54th had to outperform expectations, and it did.
"Every year, we try to find someone or a group of people who have contributed significantly to Massachusetts," said Susan McCombe, one of the commissioners of the Hall of Black Achievement and special assistant to the college president. "They're such an obvious choice."
Saturday's festivities include a reception at 5 p.m., dinner at 6 and a program at 7. The event will be held in the East Campus Commons at Bridgewater. Byron Barnett of Channel 7 will be the host. Tickets are $30 for adults, and $15 for children and students with a valid ID.
New Bedford's ties to the 54th are strong, with two of Frederick Douglass' sons joining the regiment, along with Sgt. William H. Carney and several other New Bedford sons.
Carl Cruz is a descendant of Sgt. Carney, the first black man to win the Medal of Honor. He will accept the award on behalf of the 54th at the 17th annual Heritage Celebration on Saturday.
"I feel a kinship to the whole project itself," Mr. Cruz said.
He also was a member of the hall's board of directors, and co-chairman of the committee that created the 54th Massachusetts Plaza located on Elm Street in the city, where the recruitment center stood.
Sgt. Carney's performance on the battlefield is well documented. During a desperate charge at Confederate positions at Battery Wagner, S.C., he planted the flag on the parapet and retrieved it when the troops fell back.
Mr. Cruz remembers taking the medal to school for show and tell.
"I did one of my first nonbook reports by interviewing my grandmother and great-aunt," he said. "It's a huge honor to be sure the stories of people of color are told."
Also from New Bedford were James Gooding, who wrote daily letters to the newspaper from the field, and the Rev. William Jackson.
"I will read part of a letter that Reverend Jackson wrote," Mr. Cruz said. "He creates a picture of what these men were like. I'm going to be using his words."
Mr. Cruz, described by his sister Cheryl as the family historian, is a treasure trove of information about other historical New Bedford figures.
On the same evening, the Mary Hudson Onley Achievement Award will be presented to C. Bernard Fulp of Newton. Ms. Onley, of New Bedford, was Bridgewater's first graduate of color, according to Mr. Cruz.
"New Bedford has great connections here," he said. "I want to make sure that the untold stories of people of color are really brought forth."
Massachusetts Hall of Black Achievement officials agree.
"Their accomplishments were significant," Ms. McCombe said.
Call (508) 531-1795 for more information about the event.