Sculpture honors black Civil War veterans | Local News

Speakers at the dedication Friday called Rutland’s newest sculpture a memorial to the city’s past and a marker of its future.

The piece, the fifth in the series, depicts the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American units of the Union Army, which served in the Civil War and was depicted in the movie “Glory.” While the regiment was organized in Massachusetts, it drew recruits from all over the Northeast. Twenty people are recorded as enlisting in Rutland, though not all of them were residents of the city.

The piece, sculpted by Don Ramey, of West Rutland, depicts a moment from the Battle of Olustee, in which organizer Steve Costello said three members of the Rutland contingent were injured — one later dying from his wounds. Ramey said he was aided by the input of Massachusetts sculptor Mark Burnett at West Rutland’s Carving Studio and Sculpture Center.

Burnett said he had more than a dozen relatives in the 54th, and told Ramey about how his great-great-grandfather, Theodore Hazard, served alongside his cousin, Oliver Hazard, and how Theodore helped Oliver off the battlefield when Oliver was wounded at Olustee. The moment appears on the right end of the sculpture, and Ramey based his depiction of the Hazards on photos Burnett provided of Theodore Hazard’s two grandsons.

Costello said the Rutland contingent had an average age of 27.

“They included laborers, a barber, a mason and farmers,” he said. “They included two sets of brothers, a father and son and two brothers-in-law.”

Costello said outgoing Rutland Regional Medical Center CEO Thomas Huebner decided to fund the sculpture shortly before his departure, and that Huebner’s successor, Claudio Fort, upheld the commitment. Fort praised Huebner’s “forethought and wisdom” in supporting the project.

“These 20 men from Rutland served with honor and distinction and helped change the perception of African Americans and helped preserve our union,” he said.

Alderwoman Lisa Ryan — the first African American elected to the Board of Aldermen and one of a very small handful of African Americans in the crowd at the dedication — said she was proud that the city was making meaningful recognition of a significant moment in history for African Americans.

“For me, this sculpture depicts so much more than what’s on its surface,” she said. “It depicts the fight for equal rights and that fight is real.” The Rev. Arnold Thomas, a supporter of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, said the sculpture would be added to the trail, which has grown from 16 sites to 23 since its establishment in 2015. Thomas said African Americans have called Vermont home since the 17th century, and that roughly one-fifth of Vermont’s African American population at the time served in the Civil War. He said one of the reasons he came to Vermont was because Lemuel Haynes, the first African American ordained as a minister in America, pastored in West Rutland for 30 years.

“Rutland plays an important contribution not only to black history in Vermont, but to black history nationwide,” he said.

Thomas said that demographic projections say that America will stop being a majority-white country in the 2040s, but that the northeast will remain one of the whitest regions in the nation, which he said might draw white supremacists to Vermont.

“It is this visual testimony that presents such a nightmare from seeing the light of day,” he said.

Ramey, who completed and later restored the Vietnam memorial in Main Street Park, choked up when discussing the piece.

“It’s tough to talk about the topic of the Civil War,” he said. “Events of this day just go to prove that we really screw up when we’re sending people into battle like this.”

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