A Flag That’s Still Worth Dying For
When hammer-thrower Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag at the Olympic Trials last weekend, it made me think of Sergeant William Carney.
Berry probably doesn’t know who Carney was.
Neither, I bet, do the Black Lives Matter activists who spent last summer blindly tearing down statues of historical figures to protest the racist origins of America and the systemic racism they claim exists today.
Thanks to the lousy way history is taught in our schools, most Americans – of every color – have never heard of William Carney.
But who he was, what brave things he did on a Civil War battlefield, and what he thought about America and its flag should have become common knowledge many July 4ths ago.
Carney was born a slave in Virginia in 1840, but his father escaped to the North on the Underground Railroad and made enough money in Massachusetts to purchase the freedom of the rest of his family.
In 1863 Carney, at age 23, joined a local militia and became part of the all-Black Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
As shown in the Oscar-winning 1989 movie “Glory,” the historic 54th and 55th regiments were founded to prove that Black men could be good, brave soldiers – and they quickly proved it.
During the bloody battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston, S.C., in 1863 Carney saw that the soldier carrying the 54th regimental colors had been wounded.
He left his position and ran into the thick of the fighting to save the American flag from being captured or hitting the ground – which was something they cared about deeply in those days.