Looking back to the weeks prior, our class has covered strictly literature. This week, however, we watched Glory, the 1989 film about the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry. This was the first all-black regiment in the US Army. Though the film was made more than a century after the events it depicts, it is a rather accurate portrayal of the times. The film clearly shows many of the problems that African American writers in the mid 19th century, in particular Frederick Douglass and DuBois, spoke about. In his texts, Douglass spoke about racism in the North, a topic which is often overlooked. Many people, even today, are oblivious to the fact that racism and prejudice was a problem in the North. It is possible that, in the larger scheme of history, these problems were overlooked. In Glory, however, this racism is clearly depicted. Though they expected to go to combat, Shaw realizes that his unit is not being taken entirely seriously, and the black soldiers are generally being exploited for labor. A particular scene shows this injustice, as after a higher ranking officer shoots a black soldier, he casually remarks “That wouldn’t have been necessary if that sesesh woman hadn’t started it. They never learn. You see sesesh has to be cleared away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. Now I will have to burn this town” (Glory). As stated earlier, many believed that African Americans were treated as equals in the North, as the North were the same people fighting for their freedom. While instances like this surely did exist, it was also seen on a less violent scale, as well. Douglass suggested that, even though he was educated, some Northerners were a bit condescending or unwilling to acknowledge him as their equal. A problem like this also exists in glory, when a fight breaks out between some white soldiers and black soldiers. Morgan Freeman’s character, Rawlins, steps in to break up the fight, and the lower ranking white soldiers scoffs at him, disrespecting his authority and position. In addition to this, I would like to return to the aforementioned notion of the regiment initially being used for labor. This part of the movie reminded me greatly of DuBois’ text, The Souls of Black Folk. In the work, DuBois argues that blacks should receive a more liberal education, one that will be beneficial to them in politics and others professions. DuBois believed that it was only with an education such as this that the community would grow more powerful. Prior to DuBois, Booker T. Washington argued for almost the opposite, believing that African Americans should focus on a more labor and trade oriented profession. This, to me, seemed to lead to a more subservient position for the African Americans, and I believe that is exactly why DuBois argued against Washington. It seemed that the regiment, in the film, was taught more of the ideals proposed by Washington, however, Shaw’s ideals were more in line with that of DuBois, as he is far more sympathetic and understanding of his regiment.
Leave a Reply