08/03/2012 09:41 am ET

Monument To Black Civil War Soldiers In Boston Vandalized By Local Black Woman

A monument in Boston depicting a famous all-black regiment that fought for the union in the Civil War was vandalized by a mentally disturbed local woman.

Local officials quickly began cleaning up the yellow paint that the woman tossed on the relief monument, which depicts the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The woman accused of vandalizing the monument, Rosemine Occean, is African American and reportedly said the sculpture was "an improper depiction of history."

Occean pleaded not guilty to malicious destruction of property over $250 and one count of vandalizing a historic monument. A psychologist told the court that she was diagnosed with a mood disorder over a decade ago.

The sculptor August Saint-Gaudens unveiled the relief on Memorial Day 1897 on the Boston Common to honor the 54th Infantry.

After a call was made in 1863 for black volunteers to fight in the war, freed blacks from all over the Northern United States came to Massachusetts to enlist in the regiment, including two of Frederick Douglass's sons. When Southern whites found out that the Union was sending black soldiers to fight them, the Confederate Congress said that any captured black soldier would be enslaved and sold and any white officer who commanded black troops would be killed. Black soldiers in the 54th were paid less than white Union soldiers, but they refused to accept their wages until they were paid equally.

However in 1863, the 54th was routed during a raid on Fort Wagner, which protected the Port of Charleston in South Carolina. Shaw, the Infantry's leader, was shot in the chest during the attack. After the battle, the Confederate soldiers, livid that they were being attacked by blacks, tossed the bodies of slain members of the 54th into a ditch and sent a message to Northern officials that said "we have buried [Shaw] with his niggers."

The surviving members continued to fight until 1865.

The 54th was the subject of the critically acclaimed 1989 film "Glory," a young Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a freed slave who enlisted in the regimen. The film also starred Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Andre Braugher.

“I think I feel a little sad for her because she may not know what the monument really stands for,” said Lt. Benny White, a Civil War re-enactor whose group honors the regiment. “I won’t judge her, that’s not my place. But I would like to see that person get some kind of a training course about what these men went through during the Civil War.”
“This [monument] honors more than just the men of the 54th," White said. "It’s for all of the 30,000 African-American men who gave their lives in the Civil War.”