It’s the first in the nation honoring Black veterans in all five branches of the military!
Buffalo, New York has unveiled a new historic monument honoring Black service members, NBC News reports.
The African American Veterans Monument was just unveiled in Buffalo, New York. In the works since 2014, the project was first commissioned by the Erie County Links Chapter, a prestigious and Black woman-led organization that serves the Buffalo community. Since 2016, organizations have been working to fund the monument, the first of its kind in the nation honoring Black service members in all five branches of the US military. The monument highlights Black veterans of the past and present, recognizing those who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Jonathan Casey, a popular Buffalo artist who passed away in 2020, designed the monument. Made of concrete, the 12 black pillars reach 10 feet tall and spread 3 feet wide. The pillars stand in chronological order, paying homage to the 12 wars Black soldiers fought in, from the American Revolution in 1775 to the ongoing war on terrorism. The space between the pillars also holds an important meaning, signifying the times of peace from one war to the next.
Present at the dedication ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park were dozens of military officials, veterans, and city and state lawmakers. The largest naval park in the country, the event was held just two days after the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document issued on September 22, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, announcing the end of slavery. New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes was also in attendance alongside servicemen like Ronal Bassham, a 90-year-old retired Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam war. Robin Hodges, vice chairman of the African American Veterans Monument said the monument serves to make more visible the contributions of people like Bassham, who joined the Air Force when he was just 17 and retired in 1975.
“The African American Veterans Monument will enhance visitors’ understanding of the diversity in the armed forces throughout American history. Visitors will experience a shared history which includes significant achievements of African-Americans in all branches of the armed forces,” said Hodges.
Those who visit the monument will also have the opportunity to purchase a commemorative brick that can be placed on the ground around the pillars, engraved with the name of living service members and those who have died.
There has been a renewed effort to honor the sacrifices of Black military units that were once overlooked. Last summer, Congress moved to honor an all Black women WWII battalion with Congressional Gold medals. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion had previously received a monument in their honor in Leavenworth, Kansas. The women known as the Six Triple Eight were sent to WWII to help process millions of pieces of undelivered mail. The backlog was steep, and no mail was contributing to low morale amongst the soldiers. During their time, they cleared a backlog of about 17 million pieces of mail, twice as fast as expected. The battalion then went over to serve in France before returning home. Despite their efforts, the women faced a tremendous amount of racism. They dealt with housing, mess halls, and recreational facilities, which were all segregated by race and gender, forcing them to set up their own independent operations.
During their Congressional Gold Medal ceremony, Retired Army Col. Edna Cummings spoke about the significance of the women’s work.
“I think that the 6888th inherently knew that their presence overseas meant more than clearing that mail backlog. They were representing opportunity for their sisters at arms back in the United States who were having a hard time dealing with the racism and sexism within the ranks,” Cummings said.
West Point Academy also recently welcomed a new statue in honor of the Buffalo soldiers, the school’s first ever outdoor statue of a Black man. The statue honored Staff Sgt. Sanders H. Matthews Sr., one of the last known Buffalo Soldiers to serve at West Point. The Buffalo Soldiers were a group of all Black soldiers assigned to the 9th and 10th U.S. cavalry regiments. In 1907, a branch of Buffalo Soldiers was assigned to West Point, the then segregated military academy. Known for battling the Native Americans in the West during the late 1800s, the soldiers were tasked with teaching cadets how to ride horses and forced to do menial work around campus. Staff Sgt. Matthews served 23 years as a Buffalo soldier, majority of it at West Point before retiring in 1962. He made history as the first Black police officer in Highland Falls, NY, ending his career at West Point as a campus bus driver. In 2008, he founded the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point.
Matthews’ granddaughter, Aundrea Matthews, who serves as cultural arts director for the corps of cadets at the Academy, spoke about the significance of her grandfather’s statue, saying, “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.”
Our military’s history cannot be told without reflecting on the contributions of African Americans who served.
Proud that Buffalo is home to the country’s first African American Veterans Monument. We honor this history & are committed to passing it down to future generations. pic.twitter.com/2EILiTx2io
— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) September 24, 2022advertisement
A similar sentiment will be felt with the Buffalo community at the African American Veterans Monument. New York Governor Kathy Hochul joined in on the ceremony as well, taking to social media to share her thoughts about the historic monument.
“Our military’s history cannot be told without reflecting on the contributions of African-Americans who served…We honor this history and are committed to passing it down to future generations,” wrote Hochul.
Since the contributions of Black military units are highlighted so few and far in between, the monument seeks to shine a light on their service, also paying homage to groups like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Harlem Hellfighters who laid their lives on the line for their country. The stories of these men and women are not often told in classrooms or included in history books but at the monument, they will be included, serving as an educational tool for centuries to come.
Madeline Scott, a member of the African American Veterans Monument committee said the unveiling of the monument is a proud moment.
“This monument serves as a source of pride to the generations of African-Americans who served this country with honor but often returned to civil life without the support given to other veterans and opportunities afforded to others,” said Scott.
For more information on the African American Veterans Monument in Buffalo, visit the website here.
Buffalo, NY unveils new historic monument honoring Black service members. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army