West Point General Pledges to Take Action on Allegations of Racism by Former Cadets

The superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams.
The superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, speaks at a COVID-19 briefing, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 30, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

The superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point said this week that he has started to take action about allegations of racism at the historic institution.

Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams told an audience at a discussion on race hosted by the Association of the United States Army Wednesday that he takes it very seriously that former West Point graduates described personal experiences with racism. A number of West Point alums came to the school June 25 with a 40-page proposal to create an "Anti-Racist West Point."

"I directed my inspector general to do a formal investigation; he has a report out to me, and we are going through the process of it," Williams said. "It's an investigation, so I have to be careful about commenting on it, but we took that and are taking it on and looking at it in a very deliberate way."

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The letter lays out an in-depth plan for "uprooting the racism that saturates" the history of West Point, and features several examples of the racist treatment former cadets' experiences.

One cadet wrote, "I was called a 'n-----' during my freshman year at West Point. Another described how he found a note in his room that contained "a picture of me holding a rifle, photoshopped with a monkey's face over my own."

The proposal makes many suggestions for how the academy's leadership can work to eradicate trappings of past racism at West Point, such as removing all names, monuments and art honoring or venerating Confederate figures. In addition to "Lee Barracks," which honors Gen. Robert E. Lee, there is also a six-foot painting of Lee that hangs in the lobby of the library, "in which his Black slave stands in the bottom right leading Lee's white horse."

"Racism has no place at the United States Military Academy," said Williams, who is Black. "Like the United States Army, we are committed to eradicating racism within our ranks."

Williams did not say when the investigation will be complete, but said he welcomed the feedback from the former cadets that raised the issue of racism at West Point.

Williams did not say anything about Confederate monuments, but said West Point "will be considerate of the things that were mentioned in the letter."

"But I will tell you, we are taking action now; we were already on a path," Williams said, describing how the institution is "aligned with the Army's Project Inclusion, an effort launched in late June to weed out unconscious bias and other forms of discrimination in the force.

"Throughout summer training, we have engaged in some frank and honest conversations, tough conversations with our cadets.

"We've got to do a lot of listening, and that's really the heart of what we are doing as part of our diversity and inclusion program."

West Point has also started holding "honorable living days," which focus on issues such as sexual assault. The next one will be held later in September, and will focus on racism and inclusive leadership and how we ensure all of the academy feels like they are a part of a squad, rather than in a squad."

As future leaders, cadets are making an effort to tackle tough issues like racism at the institution, Williams said.

"They want to be engaged; they want to make sure their leaders are engaged in this space and are taking action," Williams said. "And we will take action and address the issues that were mentioned in the letter and welcome it. It was a great opportunity."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Review Launched into Allegations of Racial Persecution, Bias at West Point

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