Although I’ve been to West Point before, I finally had the opportunity to tour it a few weeks ago. Formally known as the U.S. Military Academy, West Point is an impressive institution with a fascinating past. As I toured, I was unaware of the fact that a new statue was about to be installed to honor an important yet little known chapter of West Point history.
In a ceremony on Friday, West Point formally unveiled its first statue of a Black man. This new monument, which arrived on August 31, is a one-ton bronze creation with the following etched in granite: “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.”
The statue depicts Staff Sgt. Sanders H. Matthews Sr., who is believed to be the last known member of the Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers were comprised of two regiments of Black men who instructed white cadets while performing menial work at West Point from 1907 until 1947, before President Harry Truman desegregated the Army by executive order.
Sgt. Matthews’ granddaughter, Aundrea Matthews, serves as West Point’s Cultural Arts Director for the Corps of Cadets. As she explained to the Washington Post, this new statue commemorates 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.”
Today’s overdue ceremony follows the removal on Wednesday of a 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its towering perch in Richmond, Virginia. It’s the last to go of six monuments honoring slavery, racism, and the losing side of the American Civil War, making good on Gov. Ralph Northam’s promise in June 2020 to remove it in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Of course, Donald Trump seized the opportunity to show he’s on the wrong side of history when it comes to whom we honor. In a statement Wednesday, Trump praised Lee as a great strategist and unifying force. He then complained, “If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!”
The world is changing much faster than small-minded racists like Trump would like. A new Gallup poll released today reveals that a record 94 percent of U.S. adults approve of interracial marriage, up from only 4 percent when Gallup began polling on this issue in 1958. As hateful monuments are removed and inspiring ones get installed, it’s a refreshing sign that the Trumpian world view is getting increasingly antiquated, while equality and dignity take hold.