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Buffalo Soldiers Statue Unveiled at West Point

A large crowd watched expectantly as a soldier tugged at a black cloth spread over a monumental statue on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Friday morning. As it fell away, it revealed a bronze statue of a Black soldier sitting astride a stallion, a tribute to the U.S. Army’s famed Black cavalry — the Buffalo Soldiers — who for decades taught military horsemanship to white cadets here.

A cheer rose up from the cadets and spectators, in celebration of a Black military legacy that many in the audience felt was long overdue.

“These men trained cadets who then went on to be leaders in the Army as commissioned officers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Sa’eed Mustafa, whose great-uncle Sgt. Leon Tatum was a Buffalo Soldier. “And yet they were never ever given their just due.”

Underscoring the significance, the unveiling of the tribute to Black soldiers came just days after the removal of a different military monument hundreds of miles away in Richmond, Va., the former capital of the Confederacy. On Wednesday, Virginia took down a statue of Robert E. Lee, the South’s Civil War general, from Monument Avenue, where it had stood since 1890. It was the last of six Confederate monuments to be removed from a row there, a deeply symbolic and politically fraught moment as the country continues to grapple with homages to its Confederate past rooted in white supremacy.

The Buffalo Soldiers unit, formally known as United States Army’s 9th and 10th Cavalry, was established in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, and held an important and confounding position within a military that would remain officially segregated until 1948. The Black soldiers were celebrated as some of the Army’s top horsemen, a vital and strategic role in the era before the large-scale mechanization of warfare. But even as they were brought to West Point as revered experts to teach the all-white cadets horsemanship and riding, they were housed in segregated barracks and forced to do menial work.

“It is one of those dichotomies that some of the best soldiers in our military were African American, and at the same time Jim Crowism and ‘separate but equal’ existed,” said Col. Krewasky A. Salter, who is retired from the military as well as a former teacher of military history at West Point and the current executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton, Ill. “They represented the hope, faith, resiliency and commitment to what African Americans could achieve.”

Erecting a monument to these men — who, folklore has it, were given the nickname Buffalo Soldiers by Indigenous people they fought during the United States’ westward expansion — has been in the works since 2017. That was when a group of former members of the unit and their descendants approached the academy to rectify what they felt was its under-appreciation of the soldiers’ contribution.

Read entire article at New York Times