Buffalo is first city in nation with war memorial for Black veterans of all American conflicts
Shortly after the tarpaulins were pulled off 12 black stone columns at Buffalo's African American Veterans Monument Saturday, people came up to the plaza in front of them and started searching through the dog-tag like paver stones on the plaza in front of the monolith representing each war.
Like at so many other memorials across the nation, people searched for names they knew, and had an emotional reaction upon discovering someone close to their heart. Some openly wept.
"There was tears. There was joy," said monument organizing committee chairman Warren Galloway. "A lot of of veterans, especially World War II, they never really talked about being in the service. I know my father never really talked about it at all, but to actually see a name or family member, people were really emotionally affected by it."
The monument, the result of six years of planning and fundraising, opened Saturday in a spot near the large American flag on the edge of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
Galloway spoke of the ceremony as part of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next?" program Monday, saying the monument is unique in all of America.
"There are many cities that might have statues of African Americans, honored for World War I, or Vietnam or whatever. But there's no other monument in the country that we researched that is a monument that acknowledges African Americans in all 12 conflicts. That's the difference," he said. "That this monument is just not for honoring Vietnam, African Americans or World War I, or Korean War veterans. This monument honors every African American veteran from the Revolutionary War to now."
Each of the pillars representing a war or conflict bears a QR code, and observers can scan it to get detailed lessons about some of the notable African-American soldiers in each conflict. The stories include Crispus Attucks, the first man killed in the American Revolutionary War. They also tell of the Harlem Hellfighters, a unit that trained in the Jim Crow south and then had to fight as part of a French Army unit in WWI because of segregation.
Many fought for their country, only to return home and face racism in civilian life, Galloway said.
"You're going to learn that in spite of all the promises that African Americans received — that if you support us, like the Union soldiers in the Civil War, or the America George Washington soldiers in the Revolutionary War, that (were told), 'You will be free.'"
"But in spite of all these acts, no promises and the racism, that whenever the call of duty are the call for soldiers came out from any war, African Americans responded," Galloway said.
The monument, part of a six-year community fundraising effort, was first proposed as part of a civics class to document the untold stories of Blacks in wartime. When a Buffalo school teacher began to look for a repository to place essays on the soldiers, the project expanded to become a memorial space, with the teaching element — and stones honoring individual Black soldiers from greater Buffalo.
"So that's why we say this is not only to honor African American vets, but it's also to educate the community," Galloway said.