Klan depiction has no place at West Point

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It is tempting to describe the discovery of a West Point plaque depicting a hooded Ku Klux Klan member as a surprising revelation. In truth, though, the image has been in plain sight for decades, passed by streams of students at the entrance to a campus science center.

Still, the depiction is receiving warranted attention because it was cited in a new report issued by a panel, the Naming Commission, tasked with providing recommendations for the removal or renaming of Department of Defense landmarks that honor the Confederacy. To that end, the panel recommends removing portraits and renaming facilities at West Point that honor Robert E. Lee and other Confederate figures.

That’s the right move, of course. As we’ve said before, monuments to the Confederacy deserve no place in modern American life, as they were erected largely to celebrate the racist caste system its traitorous military and political figures fought to preserve. They are especially inappropriate at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which, as noted by the Naming Commission’s report, should be a symbol of national unity and service.

But what about the Klansman, who is included as part of a three-panel installation with the stated intention of depicting the history of the United States?

No doubt, the Klan is an unfortunate part of that history. Founded after the Civil War, the group terrorized generations of Black Americans living in the Jim Crow South. In the North, meanwhile, the Klan thrived as a nativist organization that intimidated and harassed the country’s growing Catholic and Jewish populations.

If the West Point panels, created by New York City sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser and dedicated in 1965, were an attempt to deliver a warts-and-all portrayal of American history, then the hooded figure with the words “Ku Klux Klan” underneath might represent a refreshing refusal to whitewash the harsh realities of the national experience. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the point.

Consider that many of the other historical figures depicted by the installation are known for their positive contributions. They include American Red Cross founder Clara Barton; national anthem author Francis Scott Key; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; woman’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony; and folk heroes such as Johnny Appleseed and Davy Crockett.

In that context, the hooded Klansman is, at best, an odd and unfortunate inclusion. Its placement could be taken as an intended honor — and therefore an affront to the Black, Catholic and Jewish attendees of West Point, along with anyone else hoping for a more fair society.

One panel in the installation includes a depiction of Lee and other leaders of the Confederacy, and the Naming Commission says that imagery should be removed. The group didn’t recommend removing the Klansman because it considered the depiction to be outside of its Confederate-focused remit. Nevertheless, members felt compelled to draw attention to the depiction and have spoken against it publicly. “We thought it was wrong,” one member, a retired brigadier general, said to The New York Times

It is wrong, and the solution is simple. When the depictions of Gen. Lee and others are removed, the Klansman must also go. West Point will be better for it, and the country will, too.

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