Across from the State House  is the life-sized bronze bas-relief plaque of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw designed by New England sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Considered one of the best American sculptures of the 19th century, it depicts the commander of the first all-Black regiment to fight during the Civil War, marching out of Boston  with his troops in March 1863.
Two months later, Shaw and 271 of his men were killed during a suicide mission on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, galvanizing the country with the bravery of his Black soldiers. (Later, his story was immortalized in the Academy Award–winning 1989 film Glory.) The sculpture is a surprisingly realistic depiction of Shaw atop his horse, surrounded by soldiers carrying rifles, backpacks, and bedrolls. Above them is an angel with an olive branch, symbolizing peace, and poppies, symbolizing death.
The Shaw Memorial is the beginning of the Black Heritage Trail, a lesser-known path that traces the separate journey to freedom of Black Americans, nearly one hundred years after the first freedom trail. Plaques at historic houses en route detail the lives of abolitionists and orators who lived on the back side of Beacon Hill , where Boston’s  free Black community numbered more than a thousand by the turn of the 19th century.
The Black Heritage Trail ends at the African Meeting House, once headquarters of the New England Anti-Slavery Society and called the “Black Faneuil Hall” for the impassioned speeches by William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists heard within. The church now houses the Museum of Afro-American History (46 Joy Street, 617/720-2991 x14, www.afroammuseum.org , 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $5 suggested donation), which has exhibits and films dedicated to the story of Boston’s abolitionists.
The Black Heritage Trail is also part of the Boston African-American National Historic Site (617/742-5415, www.nps.gov/boaf ), run by the National Park Service, which offers free tours on request.