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By Claretta Bellamy | Sept. 26, 2022

For the first time, Black veterans are getting a monument to acknowledge their service and contributions in all U.S. wars.

The African American Veterans Monument was unveiled Saturday in Buffalo, New York, to honor Black veterans and active-duty military service members who served in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard — both past and present.

Military members, veterans and city and state officials, including New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, gathered in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, the largest naval park in the country, for the unveiling ceremony. The event came two days after the anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the document issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, that set a date for the end of slavery.

Visitors at the African American Veterans Monument in Buffalo, N.Y.

Robin Hodges, the vice chairman of the African American Veterans Monument, said the monument is a unique way to honor Black veterans like Ronal Bassham, 90, who joined the Air Force at 17 and served in the Vietnam War. Bassham, who retired in 1975, was at the event.

“The African American Veterans Monument will enhance visitors’ understanding of the diversity in the armed forces throughout American history,” Hodges said. “Visitors will experience a shared history which includes significant achievements of African Americans in all branches of the armed forces.”

Designed by the late artist Jonathan Casey, the concrete monument is made up of 12 black pillars stretching 10 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The pillars are in chronological order marking the 12 wars Black soldiers served in: from the American Revolution in 1775 to the current war on terrorism. The spacing between pillars is also significant, as it represents the times of peace between one war and the next.