What if TIME made a split cover with Kaepernick and William Harvey Carney?
Wait, you’ve never heard of him? Well, he's not on Twitter. Carney was born a slave in Virginia in 1840 and eventually became a free man in Massachusetts, where at age 23, he joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and fought for the North in the Civil War.
In battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, members of the color guard were killed, so he rushed forward and picked up the American flag. As he marched into danger, he was shot twice and almost died of blood loss. With terrible wounds, he crawled up the fort and planted the flag, holding it tightly until he was finally carried away to receive medical attention. When fellow soldiers reached him, he said proudly, "Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!"
His actions in battle and respect for the flag inspired other black soldiers and enlightened the minds of whites, who were skeptical that blacks could perform well in battle. For his bravery and devotion, Carney became the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest honor anyone can receive for military bravery.
His official citation reads, “When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier 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.”
Imagine the distinction. A man born into the worst condition humanity endured chose to defend the very country that previously enslaved him because he valued the ultimate cause of America. And he did so by honoring our flag. If anyone had a right to criticize the flag and what it represented at the time, it was Carney and those African Americans like him. Yet, he summoned the bravery to honor a nation that bled to change its course.
Colin Kaepernick is, by most accounts, a fine person with a valuable message. But let’s not pretend his is the only one worth hearing. Let’s also remember those others that have also fought for change. And some of them did so without a Twitter account and $114,000,000 contract.