The statue comes more than a century after the first Buffalo Soldiers came to West Point.
West Point welcomed a new statue in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers, the first outdoor statue of a Black man at the Academy, The Washington Post reports.
Staff Sgt. Sanders H. Matthews Sr. was a proud Buffalo Soldier and the last known to serve at West Point. He had always dreamed of having a monument at the prestigious West Point honoring the work of the Buffalo Soldiers, serving 23 years as a soldier, most of it at West Point. He retired in 1962, becoming the first Black police officer in Highland Falls, NY, before returning to West Point as a campus bus driver in his later years. He also founded the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point in 2008.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sanders H. Matthews Sr. Photo Courtesy of Aundrea Matthews
The Buffalo Soldiers were members of the all-Black 9th and 10th U.S. cavalry regiments, known for battling the Native Americans in the West during the late 1800s. The Cheyenne and Comanche tribes named them Buffalo Soldiers based on the similarities of skin tone and hair texture to the American bison. In 1907, a detachment of Buffalo Soldiers was assigned to West Point, the then-segregated military academy. They were responsible for teaching the cadets how to ride horses and relegated to doing menial work across campus. Previously, a white cavalry had been assigned the job, but they were undisciplined with low morale and a high turnover rate. When the Buffalo Soldiers arrived, the problem was solved. The group would go on to serve at West Point until 1947. The very next year, the Army was racially desegregated.
Now, a statue made in the likeness of Sgt. Matthews has come to West Point, honoring the rich legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers who served there, nearly 114 years after they first came. Matthews always wanted a monument on campus to celebrate their work, beginning the project before his death at 95 in 2016. Now, it’s finally come to fruition.
“It’s quite exhilarating, to say the least. That’s probably an understatement. They served…quietly, confidently, skillfully. They were standard-bearers,” said Army Maj. Gen. Fred Gorden, the first Black commandment of cadets at West Point.
West Point’s superintendent, the first African American to hold the title, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, echoed those sentiments, saying, “These Soldiers embodied the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country, and ideals of the Army. this monument will ensure that the legacy of Buffalo Soldiers is…revered, honored and celebrated while serving as an inspiration for the next generation of cadets.”
Sculptor Eddie Dixon created the statue in his studio in Lubbock, Texas. Dixon paid extra attention to detail, consulting with West Point historians and other experts to ensure the uniform and horse equipment was historically accurate. He recreated leggings similar to those worn by riders in 1907 and an 1885 McClellan style Saddle. He even managed to mimic a flag anchor in the rider’s right stirrup that would resemble one from 1904. Dixon also spent copious amounts of time looking through old photographs of Matthews to get his facial features precise.
Artist Eddie Dixon. Photo Courtesy of Jackie Molloy/The Washington Post
After the clay model was created over foam, molds were made, and the statue was cast in molten bronze at the Schaefer Art Bronze Casting in Arlington, Texas. It was then transported by truck, arriving recently to West Point, escorted by eight motorcycles from the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club. The statue features Matthews riding a horse carrying a cavalry flag that reads “USMA Detachment.” Both Matthews and his wife of 75 years, Cora, are buried in the West Point cemetery.
The statue was a gift to the academy from Matthews organization, the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, who took the initiative to raise nearly $1 million for the project. When the 2,000-pound statue arrived at West Point, Matthews granddaughter, Aundrea Matthews, greeted it.
“Here he is, West Point! He’s going to be watching forever,” Matthews said out loud as the crane lifted the statue of her beloved “Papoo.” Etched into the granite, it reads, “In Memory of the Buffalo Soldiers who served with the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments as part of the United States Military Academy Cavalry Detachment at West Point.”
Matthews, who also serves as cultural arts director for the corps of cadets at the Academy, spoke about the significance of her grandfather’s statue.
“Everybody has a right to have their story told because it’s a powerful story. Just what [the Buffalo Soldiers] endured, their determination, and their commitment to prove to the world that African American men can contribute and are viable citizens of this country…We talk about so much pain that Black men experience in America and all the judgments people make about them. But when you put this monument up there, you’re only going to be able to talk about their triumphs…their valor, their honor, their patriotism,” said Matthews.
The statue will be unveiled in a ceremony at West Point on September 10th.
Photo Courtesy of Jackie Molloy/The Washington Post