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After a long road, African American Veterans Monument is dedicated in Buffalo

Buffalo News - 9/24/2022

Sep. 24—Kenny Williams looked down at his brother Danny's name etched into one of 5,000 pavers at the base on the new African American Veterans Monument, the first of its kind in the nation. Soon, he said, his name and that of his father and two other brothers would rest alongside it.

"I think it's long overdue," said the second-generation military veteran whose father, brothers and nephews joined the the Navy, Army and Marines and served in three wars dating back to World War II.

It took six years of planning, fundraising and perseverance in the face of unforeseen setbacks to bring the $1.5 million monument to fruition. But on a sunny Saturday, Gov. Kathy Hochul and a host of other dignitaries and veterans finally pulled black tarps off the 12 stark pillars of black concrete and dedicated the moment to all African American military members who served.

Hochul said she's ridden her bike past the monument site since the spring groundbreaking and seen the monument slowly take shape on the western end of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.

"I've watched the cranes and the digging and the people working so hard to build something that I don't want to be just for Buffalonians," she said. "I want this to be for our nation and for people from around the world to say, 'We might be a little late here, but at least we're making it happen today.' "

She described the monument as a new and lasting way to tell previously untold stories of how Black veterans played a key role through our military history.

The monument incorporates a dozen black concrete pillars, each 10 feet high and 3 feet wide, spaced out to correspond to the date of each of the country's 12 major military conflicts. The spacing between the pillars is meant to represent peace time between wars. The top of each pillar lights up, symbolizing the candles that military families used to put in the windows of their homes as they awaited the return of their loved ones away at war.

The gray and black pavers, reminiscent of military dog tags, sit at the base of the monument while informational displays stand in the background to describe the service of Black service members in every U.S. conflict dating back to the American Revolution.

The monument, supported with state and local funding, as well as private and corporate support, was delayed by the Covid-19 health crisis and funding holdups, as well as illnesses, said Warren Galloway, chairman of the African American Veterans Monument committee spearheading the project.

Both he and Congressman Brian Higgins also mentioned the death in early 2020 of the monument designer, Jonathan Casey, whose rendering served as the artistic vision for the project.

"For Jon, this wasn't about war," Higgins said in his remarks. "It was about peace. It was about people. It was about seeing each other more clearly. African Americans fought for America before there was an America."

Higgins traced a descriptive line through history, from abolitionist Frederick Douglass' influence over President Abraham Lincoln in declaring the Emancipation Proclamation that allowed Confederate slaves to serve in the Union Army to those who went on to storm the beaches of Normandy and serve as fighter pilots in World War II, and Black servicemembers who would eventually earn the Medal of Honor for exemplifying the highest ideals of military courage and valor.


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