On Labor Day, let us remember William Harvey Carney

September 7, 2020

Republican congressional candidate Frank Pallotta reminded the people of the 5th District to remember William Harvey Carney today. 

“William Harvey Carney was a union leader who co-founded the New Bedford Branch (Local 18) of the National Association of Letter Carriers in 1890. He served as Vice President of the union local. 

Carney had been born into slavery in 1840. He left Virginia and escaped north to Massachusetts through the Underground Railroad. Carney joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in March 1863 and achieved the rank of sergeant. He took part in the July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. His heroism there earned him the Medal of Honor.  

According to the official military history, when the color sergeant was shot down, Carney grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded. Carney struggled back across the battlefield, eventually returning to his own lines and turning over the colors to another survivor of the 54th, saying, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” Carney received an honorable discharge due to disability from his wounds in June 1864. 

The action for which he received the Medal of Honor preceded that of any other African American Medal of Honor recipient, which is why Carney is often listed as the first African American Medal of Honor winner. Carney later worked at the Massachusetts Department of State. He died, aged 68, in 1908.”  

At a time when some people are burning the American flag or using it to make a political statement, it is important to remember what it meant and what some were willing to sacrifice to defend it.