The spectacle stopped passersby in their tracks: a Confederate battle flag hung Sunday evening from a monument honoring the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment of black Civil War soldiers.
But it wasn’t a hate-filled response to recent efforts in the South to remove the relic from government property, according to a man who said he was among those who hung the rebel flag from the Beacon Hill memorial. Just the opposite, he said, it was intended as a statement in protest of the flag and to honor the 54th’s sacrifice.
Stephen Allsop, who was among the organizers of an event, said he and his friends gathered to burn the Confederate banner. After they set one aflame, he said, a police officer ordered them to stop.
Before they left the area, the group left another, damaged flag on the monument — tied to the sword of Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the 54th.
Allsop thought it would read as a clear symbol: Shaw, the leader of the regiment, and dozens of other members of the unit died in an 1863 battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Now, as South Carolina debates removing the Confederate battle flag from its State House grounds, Allsop wanted to deface it in the regiment’s name.
“At that point,” he said, “the message was much clearer.”
Allsop, a student in a joint program at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he and several colleagues felt it was important to make a loud statement amid the national discussion playing out after the murders of nine people in one of Charleston’s historic black churches.
“A lot of us are tired of not actually doing anything,” he said.
“We wanted to actually take a stand to show our support for people who live in states where this is even a debatable issue.”
The monument has been targeted by vandals in the past, including a 2012 incident in which it was splashed with paint. Earlier this year, a man was arrested for breaking Colonel Shaw’s sword off the statue.
But Allsop said he was not aware of that history.
He and his friends chose the site because of the regiment’s historical importance, he said.
The monument, commissioned by Governor John A. Andrew shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, inspired the 1989 Oscar-winning movie “Glory.’’
Allsop said he never expected anybody to read the placement of the flag in any other way.
But some who saw the flag Sunday night after the group had left had a different interpretation.
One woman, believing it was hateful message denigrating the 54th Regiment, took it down and placed it in a trash can.
Boston police came to check out the scene around 10:45 p.m. Sunday, but officials confirmed Monday that they had also been in the area earlier.
An officer called in a report of people burning a flag around 7:30 p.m., according to Officer Rachel McGuire, a police spokeswoman. There were no citations or arrests on record.