A bronze plaque commemorating the Ku Klux Klan should be removed from the West Point Science Center, a congressional committee has said, even though it falls outside the panel’s mandate because the racist terror group was formed after the US Civil War.
The Naming commission was created in March 2021, the day after the police killing of George Floyd and the racial justice protests he inspired.
The eight-member committee is responsible for recommending US Army assets must be renamed, to remove associations with Confederates who fought to maintain slavery.
In May, the commissioners published the first part of their report, concerning the renaming of military bases – a process opposite by conservatives including Donald Trump.
For example, the commission said that Fort Benning, a major infantry base in Georgia named after a Confederate general, should be renamed Fort Hal and Julie Moore, based on a Vietnam-era soldier and his wife, who changed the way the U.S. military notifies loved ones when soldiers die in combat.
In the second part of his report, published this week, the commission examined the US Military Academy, at West Point in New York, and the US Naval Academy, at Annapolis in Maryland.
Regarding West Point, the report said: “On the triptych at the entrance to Bartlett Hall, there is a mounted marker bearing the words ‘Ku Klux Klan’. The marker does not come under the jurisdiction of the commission. However, there are clearly links between the KKK and the Confederacy.
The Klan was founded in Tennessee in 1865the day after the defeat of the slave-holding south. Nathan BedfordForesta general whose troops massacred Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow in April 1864, was an early Klan leader.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, defines “three periods of great [Klan] force in American history.
These are: “The 19th century Reconstruction era, when newly freed slaves began to hold office and own land; the 1920s, when the country’s fierce anti-immigrant mood pushed Klan members into the millions; and, finally, at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when blacks and other minorities began to demand equal treatment under the law.
The naming commission “encourages[d] the Secretary of Defense to address DoD assets that highlight the KKK.” The secretary, Lloyd Austin, is a graduate of West Point. He is also African American.
The other two panels in the West Point triptych “specifically commemorate those who served voluntarily in the Confederacy”, including Robert E Lee, Jeb Stuart and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The commission said these signs “should be modified to remove names and images”.
Ty Seidule, commissioner, retired brigadier general, and West Point history professor who wrote a book about the academy and his connections to Leethe most famous Confederate general, told the New York Times that the Klan plaque was included in the report “because we thought it was a mistake.”
Aundrea L Matthews, a former West Point artistic director, said it was unclear how the plaque had been hung at Bartlett Hall.
“It was shocking for most people to see,” she said.
Matthews is president of the West Point Buffalo Soldiers Association, which commemorates the Black Riders. She said the academy has made progress on diversity, including building a statue of a Buffalo soldier by sports fields named in their honour.
The commission recommended renaming 12 West Point assets. Five, including a barracks and a gate, were named for Lee.
A West Point spokesperson said: “As a values-based institution, we are fully committed to creating an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”