Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the Union Army is not a man most of us would think of as having an important role in the history of African Americans in the United States, but he did.  Col. Shaw was chosen to lead the Massachusetts 54th Regiment of the Union Army.  With the exception of himself and his second in command this regiment was made up entirely of African Americans and was one of the first to actually be allowed to carry arms into battle.  

Col. Shaw treated his men with the same respect and expectation he accorded the white soldiers and was unique in that he expected the same from those officers serving in the armed forces around him.  Sadly he was mistaken in this.  He found that racial bias and bigotry were in many cases just as strong in the north as it was in the south and he often found himself fighting against the prejudice of his own superiors and others while trying to obtain supplies and orders for his men.

Glory stars Matthew Broderick as Col. Shaw and features Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher and Jihmi Kennedy as soldiers of the 54th.  Col. Shaw was not an imposing man and Broderick bears an uncanny resemblance to Col. Shaw in both looks and stature.  Shaw had to earn the respect of the men under him who despite their strong desire to fight for the freedom of the slaves of the south had a distrust of both Col. Shaw and the system he represents.  The film focuses on their battles within the army for respect and among themselves for the same.  You see them develop over time into a strong fighting unit that has to prove their value to the Union not only in battle, but as men.  If the histories of the Massachusetts 54th are at all accurate they are to be saluted not just for their fighting skills, but also for how far they came in a world filled prejudice.

The movie Glory itself may not be a totally accurate telling of the 54th‘s story and the names of the soldiers are fictional but the major events that the unit faced are based on reality.  It is a story that needed to be told and apparently many who reenact the Civil War thought so too;  of the many fighting scenes shown in the movie many of the extras were Civil War reenactors who volunteered their skills and expertise without pay just to be able to tell their story.  If you are interested in the Civil War and especially the role of African Americans in the war this film is a good start.