The USCT and The Boston Red Sox: Missed Opportunity or Fenway Redemption?

Today, we are pleased to welcome guest author Winifred Maloney.

On May 23, my family and I attended a game between the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. As a lifelong Red Sox fan whose first trip to Fenway Park was at fourteen days old, I thought I had been a witness to my fair share of significant historical moments. But, nothing had made such a poignant connection between my love of the Red Sox and my own recent research until I bumped into a USCT reenactor in Kenmore Square on my way to the game.

As my family walked up to Fenway Park, I noticed a man decked out in his USCT uniform. He stopped to talk with us after my younger brother saluted him. I asked him if he was on his way from a reenactment, but he told us his company was presenting the colors before the game. We did not have time to exchange information as I wanted, but after the game I found the company’s website and sent an email with some questions about the experience. 

From my perspective as a fan, the pregame ceremonies that led up to the national anthem proceeded as they normally do. When the 54th Massachusetts reenactors took the field, I scanned the crowd around me, slightly nervous about what I would see in light of recent racist altercations at Fenway. But, as the announcer drew everyone’s attention to the flag and the men who carried it, introducing the group as “Company A 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment Color Guard, the first officially authorized regiment of black soldiers in the United States Army,” I noticed nothing but cheers.

This introduction celebrated the leadership of Massachusetts in mobilizing black troops during the Civil War. Clearly intent on linking the importance of black troops of Boston history, I initially wondered if the Red Sox may have invited the reenactors to present the flag as a response to the incident that culminated with a fan ejected and banned for life. But, in an email with Joe Zellner, the president of the company, I discovered that this was in fact not the first time they had been invited. The Red Sox called them in 2013, and they presented the flag at games in 2014 and 2016. Zellner told me in his email “this Texas game was especially rewarding; there was an audible appreciation of us as the Color Guard. The applause when we entered was well appreciated and punctuated with the now seemingly obligatory, ‘Give’em hell 54th.’”

Unfortunately, the Red Sox did not tweet anything about the reenactors or put anything up on the screens for fans to learn more. It was also interesting that the announcer did not actually call them reenactors—did that confuse the fans? Did fans even know that those men on the field represented soldiers from the Civil War? I am glad that Boston leaders, both in the city and in the Red Sox organization, continue to support Civil War history and specifically the reenactors who strive to tell the story. A little more context, however, would have made a stronger point at a crucial crossroads for the city.

Winifred Maloney is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. She focuses on nineteenth-century childhood, particularly Civil War orphans and children of politicians. She is a fellow for the inaugural National Humanities Without Walls Pre-Doctoral Alternative Academic Career Summer Workshop for summer 2017.

5 Responses to The USCT and The Boston Red Sox: Missed Opportunity or Fenway Redemption?

  1. Very interesting. We see the power of cinema (“Give ’em hell 54th !”), and how U.S.C.T. reennactors are praised but white reenactors are usually regarded by the academy with scorn as old, fat, hobbyists.

  2. Thanks Winifred. Like you, I am a lifelong Sox fan. My early Fenway Park history goes back to the 50s, and are tinged with a few memories of negative fan base incidents similar to the one you mentioned. So it was a pleasant surprise to read about Company A presenting the colors at a game. As you point out, good to see a bit of CW history injected at a public event. As an education consultant for the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, I work with the Springfield MA Peter Brace Brigade of the 54th (aka Stone Soul Soldiers) in a program for city middle school students. I’ll pass the word on to them about their Company A 54th counterparts at the Fenway ceremony. (Can’t pass up the opportunity to remind any Yankees fans out there that the Sox won last night in the Bronx, 5-4.)

  3. Hey! I see what you did there–lol! Let me just say that at least we YANKEE fans don’t need much context for folks to understand the concept of winning–and we are still a game ahead . . . and a few World Series’ as well. Just sayin’.

    (and so much appreciating a baseball post, some cross rival banter, etc.! Thanks to all!)

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