Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.

American Experience

  • The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry
  • Rating: *****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $59.95
  • Date: Copyright 1991. Released 1991.
  • Descriptors: Blacks - History. United States - History - Civil War. Massachusetts Infantry, 54th.
  • Production Information: Live action, Stills. Produced by Jacqueline Shearer. Directed by Jacqueline Shearer. Narrated by Morgan Freeman. Color, b&w. Closed captioned. 60 min.
  • Production Company: WGBH (Boston) WNET (New York) KCET-TV (Los Angeles)
  • Available from: PBS Video 1320 Braddock Pl. Alexandria, VA 22314-1698 (703)739-5380
  • Cataloging: 973.7415 United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 - Regimental histories|| United States Army - Afro-American troops|| United States Army - Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry||Afro-American soldiers - History
  • Print Entry #: 3:807
  • Reviewer: Celia A. Huffman

    Part of the PBS American Experience series, this program focuses on a subject known by few people and relatively ignored in textbooks for years. This complete story of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry - who they were and why they fought - showcases the Boston society and environs from which they came as well as the hatred and discrimination they experienced both in the North and as members of the military.

    This production is a skillful blend of period group and individual photographs, historic archival documents that feature letters and diaries of the men of the 54th, and personal recollections and memorabilia of their families who are still living today. Narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, the poignant story chronicles the evolution of American thought and politics during the Civil War era and serves to rectify two major misconceptions: that all black people lived in slavery in the South and that all abolitionists were white Northerners. The program features a veritable who's who of famous 19th-century blacks, including Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, Robert Smalls, Robert Gould Shaw, and Charlotte Forten, among many others. Black historians on screen note the gradual two-year transition from a war of economics to one of human rights, as slavery was refuted and black men once prohibited from serving in the military were encouraged to do so, with approximately 180,000 responding.

    To quote host David McCullough, they fought for the right to fight, which evolved into a fight for freedom - a fight that continues today, to keep that freedom real. This is history at its best. Technical qualities are quite good.

    Suggested for high school and older audiences to supplement their formal or informal study of black history, the Civil War, and its era. Recommended for public, school, and academic libraries.

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