Reagan: A flag worth dying for

Published 1:10 pm Friday, July 2, 2021

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When hammer-thrower Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag at the Olympic Trials last weekend, it made me think of Sergeant William Carney.

Berry probably doesn’t know who Carney was.

Neither, I bet, do the Black Lives Matter activists who spent last summer blindly tearing down statues of historical figures to protest the racist origins of America and the systemic racism they claim exists today.

Thanks to the lousy way history is taught in our schools, most Americans — of every color — have never heard of William Carney.

But who he was, what brave things he did on a Civil War battlefield, and what he thought about America and its flag should have become common knowledge many July Fourths ago.

Carney was born a slave in Virginia in 1840, but his father escaped to the North on the Underground Railroad and made enough money in Massachusetts to purchase the freedom of the rest of his family.

In 1863, Carney, at age 23, joined a local militia and became part of the all-black Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

As shown in the Oscar-winning 1989 movie “Glory,” the historic 54th and 55th regiments were founded to prove that black men could be good, brave soldiers — and they quickly proved it.

During the bloody battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston, S.C., in 1863 Carney saw that the soldier carrying the 54th regimental colors had been wounded.

He left his position and ran into the thick of the fighting to save the American flag from being captured or hitting the ground — which was something they cared about deeply in those days.

Despite being hit four times by bullets, Carney was able to bring the U.S. flag safely to Union lines, where he collapsed.

It took 40 years for Carney’s battlefield heroics to be rewarded, but in 1900 he was awarded the Medal of Honor in Boston.

The first black person to receive the award, he explained his heroics by simply saying, “I only did my duty.”

Can you imagine how Carney — a former slave — and the other patriotic black men who enlisted in the 54th and 55th would react today to the protests of Gwen Berry or the constant complaints of the BLM crowd and Critical Race Theorists?

America’s not perfect now, and it never was.

But BLM and the others are fixated on the past — on the shameful stuff that our white ancestors did to blacks that we regret and are ashamed of but can’t do anything about today.

That shameful stuff includes the horrors of slavery, 70 years of legalized racism in the Jim Crow South, the de facto discrimination and segregation in the North and white race riots like the Tulsa Massacre of 1921.

Activists need to acknowledge all the good that has been done to make America a better, fairer, freer country that lives up to its founding ideals.

Blacks in America live far better and freer lives than Carney’s generation could ever dream of living.

Yet many in our country constantly disrespect the flag and the country it represents, which they claim was founded on racism and is still systematically racist.

Gwen Berry said this week she doesn’t hate America.

She said she turned her back to the flag because she doesn’t like the third (and basically unknown) stanza of the national anthem, which she claims “disrespects” blacks with its brief reference to slaves.

Berry says she knows her history, but she really doesn’t. She and the BLM and its allies have no appreciation of what life was like for Black people like Carney and his generation.

They take a knee to the national anthem or turn their backs on the same flag that Sgt. William Carney, a former slave, loved and risked his life to keep from touching the ground.

What would Carney say to Gwen Berry, Colin Kaepernick and the members of BLM today?

He’d probably want to turn his back to them. Check out the movie “Glory,” if you want to see why.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). Visit his websites at and Send comments to