The historic Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, which was given to Boston in 1897, is set to undergo a $2.8 million restoration, after a discovery in 2015 that water has penetrated into the memorial’s brick core, deteriorating the foundation.
The City of Boston Parks Department, the Friends of the Public Garden, the Museum of African American history, and the National Park Service held an event at the memorial on October 15 tiled “Shaw 54th Memorial Restoration; Restoring the Memorial & Dialogue on Race.”
Several speakers talked about the historic significance of the memorial and what it means to the city and the country, as well as what the restoration project is going to look like.
Liz Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden, said that despite regular care by the organization since its first restoration in 1981, its foundation has been ruined by water over the years and another major restoration is in order. She said that the bronze and stone will be removed and waterproofing will be installed under the brick of the plaza. There will also be a new concrete foundation, and then the bronze will be pinned to the marble structure. Additionally, the steel support beams will be protected from corrosion by the introduction of another metal, and an electric current will deter the corrosion to the new metal in place of the steel beams.
Construction will begin in the spring of next year, Vizza said, which coincides with the yearlong anniversary of slavery in North America.
Marita Rivero, CEO of the Museum of African American History, said that “this monument reminds us of the many times we’ve gathered as a people,” and named notable African-American women who were a part of the rich history, including Harriet Tubman and Susie King Taylor. “Knowing our full history helps us to begin to see women differently,” she said. “This monument is a source of inspiration and strength,” and it “encourages us in shaping a public narrative.”
Rose Fennell of the National Park Service also talked about the national significance of this memorial, and said that the National Park Service is “honored to contribute to this significant undertaking.”
The memorial honors one of the first groups of African American men who served as volunteers to fight in the Civil War. “These soldiers wore the uniform of a country that did not recognize them as citizens,” Fennell said. “As we prepare to commemorate the upcoming 250th founding of the United States of America,” she continued, “looking at the American Revolution in broader terms, [it’s an] ongoing work in progress with an unsteady march to freedom.”
“As racial violence ran rampant, this monument stood as an outlier and powerful beacon,” she said, and “continues to serve as a rallying point.”
Ryan Woods, Parks Commissioner for the City of Boston, talked about the Boston Common Master Plan that is currently underway. Mayor Walsh has dedicated $28 million for improvements to the Common. While $5 million is being sent to an endowment, the remaining $23 million will fund capital improvement.
The Master Plan kicked off in August of this year and will continue through 2020, he said. “The Common is the people’s park,” he said, serving as a space for demonstrations, rallies, and monuments like the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial. It’s also the beginning of the Freedom Trail and a “daily respite” for visitors, residents, and commuters alike. They are currently asking for public input about what people would like to see in the Common, and there are several ways to provide input, including a public open house that is set for October 29 from 5:30-8:00pm at Emerson College’s Bill Bordy Theater.
“The Shaw 54th Regiment is one of the greatest memorials we have here in America,” Donny Tavares, Chief Diversity Officer for the City of Boston, said, adding that the memorial honors “Black Americans in Boston who gave their lives to make those ideals a reality.”
He talked about the injustice that still continues to exist in 2019. “We are all profoundly affected by it and doing nothing is not an option. Our Office of Diversity has moved closer to make our city more selective of those we serve,” he said. “We need more equity in the City of Boston. We know a divided city cannot stand.”
A Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Memorial will be installed in the Common, and next year, Boston will be hosting the NAACP Summit. Tavares said of these memorials: “we are all grateful for the way it keeps our attention on these issues of justice”
At the end of the program, what Vizza called “museum quality interpretive signage” was unveiled, and will be installed on the construction fencing during the project, which will take six months to complete. There are images of the men with a quote from Frederick Douglass inscribed over the images. “This signage is just going to be beautiful,” Vizza said.
Additionally, an augmented reality app will be released, which will “make the memorial and the story literally come alive through a high resolution, 3D image of the memorial and holograms of our narrators, available to anybody that has a smartphone or a tablet.”
This interactive component will help the memorial come to life and provide more information to those who are interested.
Pizza concluded the program with: “We hope you take the opportunity to continue this dialogue today and well into the future.”