By this time next year, a monument to the patriotism and sacrifice of African-American military veterans from here and around the country will be on permanent display at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.
Plans call for an elaborate monument recognizing the millions of African-Americans who have served in every military conflict and during peace time since the founding of America.
"This is the first time in our country that a monument to honor African-American veterans from every war is being put together in one place," said Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes. "I believe it will attract national attention. This has never been done before. We are literally honoring every African-American veteran since 1775 when the Revolutionary War started."
The purpose of the monument is to pay tribute and also provide a history lesson, said Warren K. Galloway, chairman of the monument committee.
"Many people do not realize that African-Americans have served in every major war this country has fought," Galloway said.
Now, the only local memorial for African-American veterans is at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and William Street.
A modest pink granite stone memorializes the sacrifice of Jessie Clipper, the first black from Buffalo to die in World War I, and pays tribute to other African- Americans who served in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Organizers call the planned $800,000 memorial at the Naval and Military Park long overdue.
Thomas F. Higgins, the former Erie County Sheriff and a Korean War veteran, said blacks endured terrible isolation in the military but still proved willing to answer the call and defend the country.
"It's been disgraceful how black soldiers were treated over the years by their own government with segregation in the military," Higgins said. "They did their duty like everybody else but they were shunted. This memorial is long overdue."
Naval and Military Park officials say the memorial will "properly recognize the heroic efforts" of African-American veterans.
“From as early as the Revolutionary War, African-Americans served in every military conflict in U.S. history while protecting our democracy,” said retired Coast Guard Capt. Brian W. Roche, the park's executive director.
The Canalside park is already home to a number of memorials, but this will be the second honoring veterans of color. In June 2013, the Western New York Hispanic American Veterans Memorial was dedicated.
Galloway said the idea of a permanent memorial came about last year when Peoples-Stokes and members of the Erie County Links Chapter, an African-American women's group, convened a meeting to come up with a more substantial way to honor black veterans beyond Veterans Day tributes.
Funding for the memorial will come donations in a drive spearheaded by members of the Links chapter, with a big push on social media, Galloway said.
"We've already received commitments from the UAW, private businesses and individuals," Galloway said. "They are just waiting for the official announcement of the memorial."
That will take place at 8:30 a.m. Saturday – the traditional date of Veterans Day – in the Hangar Building at the Naval and Military Park.
Description of monument
Galloway, a Vietnam War veteran, says the monument will feature twelve 10-foot-tall pillars, each made from black concrete with a polished finish reminiscent of the surface on "The Wall" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Each pillar will represent a major war, each with an inscribed estimate of how many black Americans fought in the war. There will also be free-standing interactive content displays with additional information.
"We believe this will be the first of its kind in the country because it is taking a collective look at all of the main wars in which African-Americans defended the United States and recognizing all five branches of the military service they served in," Galloway said, adding the monument will also include numbers of black veterans who served during peace time.
Jonathan Casey, the local artist selected to build the memorial, says the pillars will be situated in a timeline sequence, starting with the Revolutionary War. The spaces between the pillars will represent periods of peace. And the location of where each war started will be mapped by longitudinal coordinates placed at the foot of each column.
Recessed into the tops of the pillars will be lighting sending skyward beams into the night.
This feature, Casey explained, is reminiscent of a tradition when mothers of service members placed candles in the front windows of their homes to serve as symbolic beacons to help guide loved ones safely home from war.
"The light emanating from the top of each pillar will also continuously glow symbolizing an eternal flame commemorating each war as a reminder of commitment by each soldier," said Casey, the owner of Solid 716 of Buffalo.
The monument will be built on a 1,500-square-foot swath of land between Erie Street and the Naval and Military Park's walkway along the Buffalo River. Galloway said the goal is for the monument to be dedicated on Veterans Day 2018.