West Point defends controversial KKK plaque that ‘documented tragedy and triumph’

West Point defends controversial KKK plaque that ‘documented tragedy and triumph’

The West Point military academy has defended a controversial 1965 bronze plaque depicting a Ku Klux Klan member, saying it is part of America’s history. 

The plaque was recommended to be removed by the Naming Commission, an agency tasked with reviewing and changing military assets that memorialize Confederate figures. 

While the fate of the plaque is currently unknown as the Naming Commission holds no say over non-Confederate figures and the US Army declined to say whether or not they’ll follow the recommendation, West Point defended the monument. 

In a statement, the prestigious academy said the plaque is but a small part of a larger bronze mural depicting both the good and evil of American history. 

‘The artist, Laura Gardin Fraser, was an American sculptor who was commissioned to design the panels and wanted to create art that depicted ‘historical incidents or persons’ that symbolized the principled events of that time, thereby documenting both tragedy and triumph in our nation’s history,’ the academy said. 

A bronze plaque at West Point depicting a Ku Klux Klan member has stirred controversy after the Naming Commission recommended it be taken down on Monday

A bronze plaque at West Point depicting a Ku Klux Klan member has stirred controversy after the Naming Commission recommended it be taken down on Monday

The academy defended the plaque, saying it was part of a much larger mural that depicted both the tragedies and triumphs in American history. Pictured: the plaques included in the middle bronze panel of the 1965 art piece

The academy defended the plaque, saying it was part of a much larger mural that depicted both the tragedies and triumphs in American history. Pictured: the plaques included in the middle bronze panel of the 1965 art piece 

Altogether, there are three bronze panels depicting US history that was dedicated to the West Point graduates who served in World War II and the Korean War

Altogether, there are three bronze panels depicting US history that was dedicated to the West Point graduates who served in World War II and the Korean War

The mural was completed by sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser (above) and installed at the prestigious military academy just a year before her death

The mural was completed by sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser (above) and installed at the prestigious military academy just a year before her death 

Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)

Laura Gardin Fraser was among the most prolific female sculptors and artist of the 20th century. 

The wife of famed sculptor James Earle Fraser, she worked with her husband at their Westport, Connecticut, studio creating artwork together. 

In 1921, Fraser became the first woman to design a coin for the US Treasury as she minted the Alabama Centennial half-dollar. 

Sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser

Sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser

Although she was often overshadowed by her husband’s work, Fraser’s work won several recognitions, including medals from Congress, the US Army and Navy Chaplains and the National Sculpture Society. 

Near the end of her life, Fraser worked on the West Point bronze triptych, a three panel mural, depicting the history of the US and dedicated to the academy’s graduates who served in World War II and Korea. 

In the middle panel titled, ‘One Nation, Under God, Indivisible,’ Fraser sculpted the history surrounding the Civil War that included a plaque of a Ku Klux Klan member.

The mural was presented on June 3, 1965, just a year before Fraser died.  

‘Among many other symbols, the triptych also includes individuals who were instrumental in shaping principal events of that time, and symbols like the ‘Tree of Life’ that depict how our nation has flourished despite its tragedies.’ 

Situated on a triptych at the entrance to the science center, the plaque bearing the KKK image – which shows a man in a hood and cape holding a rifle with the hate organization’s name emblazoned underneath – serves as the second segment of a three-part retelling of US history at the time, compartmentalized with the three plaques. 

The Klan member is one of two villainous characters included in the monument, with the other being a ‘Carpet bagger,’ a disparaging term used by Southerners to described opportunistic Northerners in the Post-Civil War period. 

The other figures on the plaque include suffragette Susan B. Anthony, Red Cross founder Clara Barton, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and American frontiersmen and folk heroes Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed. 

More than a half century-old, the installation was one of dozens of structures flagged in a report Monday by the Congressional Naming Commission, a task force created by Congress last year to provide recommendations to the Department of Defense (DOD) on renaming US military installations associated with the rebel army.

The report focused on Confederate markers at both West Point and the US Naval Academy in Maryland, and saw officials cite over a dozen structures between both bases – most of them depicting Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee.

However, in a controversial move, the commission conceded Monday it would not demand the removal of the KKK decoration – which adorns the entrance of the Bartlett Hall Science Center – based on the technicality that the hate group was formed just months after the Civil War, and thus falls out of its jurisdiction. 

Instead, the commission has simply recommended it be taken down.

In a statement, the US Army said: ‘We’re not in a position to discuss any implementation details at the local level yet. 

‘The Army will begin working with the installations on their specific implementation plans when additional guidance is received from the Secretary of Defense.’ 

That sentiment has since sparked outrage across the country, with Americans quick to point out the pointlessness of a group that can freely nix names associated with their nation’s history, but not have the authority to pull an openly racist artifact.

Also on the mural are images depicting slaves and a slave-driver, accompanied with the emblazoned descriptor 'Plantation slavery of the south' - an engraving the commission did not name in its report due to it stemming from a time prior to the Civil War

Also on the mural are images depicting slaves and a slave-driver, accompanied with the emblazoned descriptor ‘Plantation slavery of the south’ – an engraving the commission did not name in its report due to it stemming from a time prior to the Civil War

Soldiers were seen intensely studying the middle plaque - the one with the KKK imagery - on Wednesday, after the commission revealed it would not officially recommend the installation be taken down but urged for it to be reconsidered

Soldiers were seen intensely studying the middle plaque – the one with the KKK imagery – on Wednesday, after the commission revealed it would not officially recommend the installation be taken down but urged for it to be reconsidered

In a controversial move, the commission conceded Monday it would not demand the removal of the KKK decoration - which adorns the entrance of the Bartlett Hall Science Center - based on the technicality that the group was formed just months after the Civil War, and thus falls out of its jurisdiction

In a controversial move, the commission conceded Monday it would not demand the removal of the KKK decoration – which adorns the entrance of the Bartlett Hall Science Center – based on the technicality that the group was formed just months after the Civil War, and thus falls out of its jurisdiction

West Point Rejected The Confederacy Until The Lost Cause Movement in 1930

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, West Point Academy maintained its distance from its Confederate graduates. 

The academy rejected all proposals to establish monuments to the Confederacy and refused to invite any Confederate leader until 1898, where a monument dedicated to all West Point cadets killed in action was built. 

The building, however, was created with the rule that no Confederate names be commemorated or even mentioned within its halls. 

It wasn’t until 1930 that West Point began accepting and installing Confederate memorial as the Lost Cause Movement was gaining traction. 

The Lost Cause refers to the rhetoric that the South was heroic in its fight against the North and that slavery was not at the center of the Civil War, but rather states’ rights. 

The movement became popular throughout the nation, garnering sympathetic views of the Confederacy and even the Ku Klux Klan. 

During this period, several members and former members of the KKK rose to prominent positions, including US Senators Theodore Bilbo, Robert Byrd and Hugo Black, the later of whom was appointed to the Supreme Court. 

By 1930, the Klan said its membership claimed 11 governors, 16 senators and 75 congressmen, The Washington Post reported.  

Although it’s not clear when West Point added the bronze plaque depicting a Klan member at Bartlett Hall, it would have most likely been added during this period.   

Altogether, the report saw seven Department of Defense assets flagged for renaming at West Point. Five of them are named after Lee, who led the Confederate Army during the Civil War, as well as several other sites on the storied campus.

A further three assets were flagged at the Annapolis Naval Academy for renaming. 

The committee, which earlier this year pushed for the renaming of nine Army bases named after Confederate generals in a move would cost an estimated $21 million, has yet to comment on the backlash.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who co-sponsored a bill to remove anything that commemorates the Confederacy, said she would push Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to approve the Naming Commission’s recommendations. 

‘I am supportive of the findings in the report and will continue working with the Naming Commission and D.O.D. to remove these harmful tributes that uphold the legacy of Confederate leaders who killed thousands of American service members in order to preserve the institution of slavery,’ Gillibrand said in a statement. ‘It’s a disgrace and damaging to our nation.’

US Rep. Sean Maloney, a Democrat whose district oversees West Point, told the New York Times that he has pushed for the renaming of the academy’s facilities since 2020 and fully supports the latest recommendations. 

‘We cannot allow bigotry of the past to be perpetuated and celebrated in the same halls that educate our leaders of the future,’ he said in a statement. ‘It is essential that West Point’s campus and culture be one that is welcoming to students of all backgrounds.’ 

Aundrea Matthews, a former arts director at West Point, said the plaque stands at odds with the academy’s vision and has long-been a topic of conversation as its origins remain unclear.

‘It was shocking for most people to see the image,’ she told the Times.  

Following the report’s release Monday, several citizens expressed their distaste with the agency’s do-nothing approach to the KKK adornment – and the fact that it has remained for so long.

‘That’s a no-brainer,’ one Twitter user sniped of the commission’s halfhearted proposal when it came to the sign, which shows a man in a hood and cape holding a rifle, with the hate organization’s name emblazoned prominently underneath.  

‘That should have been taken down years ago.’

Another internet user poked fun at the government body’s inability to address an issue that should be a simple fix, due to it being entrenched in the channels of American bureaucracy.

‘How many layers of command does it take to decide having a KKK plaque at West Point is wrong and it should just be removed ASAP?’ the observer sarcastically wrote.

The commission also called for the relocation or removal of a portrait of Lee in full Confederate garb, displayed prominently in one of the academy's buildings

The commission also called for the relocation or removal of a portrait of Lee in full Confederate garb, displayed prominently in one of the academy’s buildings

In addition to the seven DOD assets flagged for renaming at West Point - which included a barracks and a child development center - to rename a further five buildings, roads and gates named after Lee and other Confederate leaders

In addition to the seven DOD assets flagged for renaming at West Point – which included a barracks and a child development center – to rename a further five buildings, roads and gates named after Lee and other Confederate leaders

A further spectator declared that despite usually being against woke government agencies renaming sites and structures associated with periods of American history, this instance should be a no-brainer. 

‘You know, normally I oppose taking down statues, plaques, etc. But in this case I’d make an exception.

‘Short reasoning is,’ the commenter continued, ‘most other folks who have monuments or plaques were complex and did good (or at least great) things, as well as bad.’

He then declared: ‘KKK only stood for one thing.’

While many were against the KKK plaque, the removal of Lee from the academy was much more controversial, with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade defending the Confederate general’s past contributions to the US Army and warning that if Lee is removed, then no historical figure is safe. 

‘He might be one of our premier military minds,’ Kilmeade said of Lee, a West Point graduate.’

‘I think this is a huge problem, and just like Donald Trump told us: ‘When you take confederate statues down, is George Washington next?’ 

‘The answer is yes, Jefferson, Madison, Washington,’ Kilmeade added, listing former presidents that he feared would be next on the chopping block.    

In addition to the seven DOD assets flagged for renaming at West Point – which included a barracks and a child development center – to rename a further five buildings, roads and gates named after Lee and other Confederate leaders.

The three assets flagged at the Naval Academy, meanwhile, included an engineering building and the superintendent’s quarters.

Aside from those structures and assets, the commission also called for the relocation or removal of a portrait of Lee in full Confederate garb, displayed prominently in one of the academy’s buildings.

The portrait of Lee, the commission wrote, is among the ‘paraphernalia’ it has ‘unanimously’ recommended for removal – as well as several other portraits of ‘individuals who voluntarily served’ under him, which they assert should be tossed.

Also suggested for removal was an engraved quote from Lee located near a prominent print of the West Point Honor Code – ‘A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.’

West Point - the nation's oldest military academy -has yet to comment on the proposed changes, which were leveled on Monday

West Point – the nation’s oldest military academy -has yet to comment on the proposed changes, which were leveled on Monday

Another display depicting Lee and three other Confederate soldiers was flagged for modification.

‘Lee’s armies were responsible for the deaths of more United States Soldiers than practically any other enemy in our nation’s history,’ the commission wrote in the report, referring to the 360,222 Union soldiers who died in the four-year conflict.

But when the subject of the Ku Klux Klan came up – a group responsible for the lynching of thousands of African-Americans and other minorities since its formation immediately after the Civil War – the commission was much less forward, asking the DOD to create the rules for dealing with such assets.

‘This marker falls outside the remit of the Commission; however, there are clearly ties in the KKK to the Confederacy,’ the commission wrote.   

The suggestions for both schools, they added, would cost taxpayers roughly $425,000.

The brazen demands come as part of a broader effort by the commission to nix the names of Southerners who fought against the US during the Civil War, ranging from the country’s many military bases, schools, and other DOD assets.

Final recommendations from the commission, including cost estimates for the proposed, costly tweaks, are due to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees by the first of October.

Before they are signed off on, however, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Congress need to sign off on them before they can take effect.

Prior to the October deadline, the eight-member panel is poised to release a third report of its final findings concerning the renaming of further DOD assets that did not make it into the agency’s first two reports.

Its first report, published in May, pushed for the renaming of nine Army bases that pay homage to various Confederate generals. The move would cost an estimated $21 million, according to the commission.


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