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Robert Gould Shaw Memorial Receives 2024 Robert H. Kuehn, Jr. Award


Gathering of officials and the public at the unveiling of the restored memorial.
Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Preservation Mass is pleased to announce that the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial is the recipient of the 2024 Robert H. Kuehn, Jr. Award.


The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial – located on Beacon Street, at the edge of the Boston Common – is recognized as a national historic landmark and remains an important symbol of the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.


Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for the raising of African American regiments. In response to Lincoln's call, MA Governor John Andrew formed the 54th MA Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first Black units to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. As a result of their heroic, yet tragic, assault on Fort Wagner, SC, in 1863, the 54th inspired more than 180,000 African American men to enlist, giving the nation a boost in morale and manpower vital to the victory of the U.S. and the eradication of slavery.


The memorial was commissioned in 1884 by Shaw's family and friends, who wanted to honor his memory and the memory of the soldiers who served under him. They selected the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create the memorial. Saint-Gaudens worked on the Shaw Memorial for more than 14 years with the help of several assistants. The Shaw Memorial was unveiled on Memorial Day in 1897, in a ceremony attended by thousands. It was the first public monument in the U.S. to honor African American soldiers. The memorial quickly became a popular destination for Boston visitors.


Over time, the memorial suffered from weathering and pollution, and the bronze surface of the sculpture became discolored and corroded. In 2015, while working on the Memorial, stone conservators alerted that the monument’s brick core had deteriorated from water penetration over time, making it vulnerable to seismic events.


The most recent restoration effort was led by The Partnership to Renew the Shaw 54th Memorial Regiment – comprising the National Park Service, City of Boston, Friends of the Public Garden, and Museum of African American History. Allegrone Masonry was awarded as the self-performing masonry contractor and general contractor for the project. The project involved cleaning the bronze surface of the sculpture, repairing cracks and other damage, and restoring the bronze to match its original appearance. A system called “cathodic protection” has been installed into the concrete deck to protect the plaza substructure. An electric current is used to draw corrosion to sacrificial metal instead of the steel support beams, thus shielding the beams from corrosion.


The work to restore the monument was performed during one of the most challenging times in recent history, with a global pandemic, political tensions and public debate about race and social justice. In recent years, the Shaw Memorial has been the site of demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. These protests have sparked conversations about the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States and the role of public art in advancing social change. The Shaw Memorial demonstrates the importance of preserving our historic monuments as tools to help future generations understand and appreciate our cultural heritage. In a time of social reckoning, the power of public monuments lies in their ability to reflect and shape the public's understanding of social issues, history, and identity. They can serve as symbols of progress and hope, as well as reminders of past injustices and the need for continued activism and social change.

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