While the world was busy talking about removing Confederate memorials, a new and long overdue monument was completed and celebrated. A joyous occasion, it was largely overshadowed by the events in Charlottesville.
The new Davis Barracks, which will house 650 cadets in a granite-studded 287,000 square foot facility, was recently unveiled at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. First announced in 2015, the building manages to thread a very difficult needle: It cements the legacy of an exceptional military leader the Academy helped create, but not in the ways one might typically expect.
In 1936, Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. became the first black West Point graduate of the 20th century. He went on to lead the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II; his pilots escorted bombers on 200 air combat missions over Europe, into some of the Nazi Luftwaffe's most entrenched areas. Under Davis' command, his group, colloquially known as the Red Tails (and part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen) never lost a bomber.
But as a student at West Point, he was shunned, every day, for four years. He was not assigned a roommate. He took his meals and studied alone. He rode the bus to events alone. His fellow students routinely turned their backs to him. These details form a side of history nobody would be proud of, and yet West Point has done the world a service by acknowledging the disgraceful treatment of a promising young man who sought to serve.
“He had to be perfect in order to get to the next level of his career,” says his grandson in this moving and unflinching video produced by West Point for the occasion. It’s a reality that will be familiar to many of you.
Last Friday, some of Davis's family members were on hand for the celebration.
“When we talk about diversity in culture, this moment was it,” says Doug Melville, the Chief Diversity Officer for advertising giant TBWA. Melville is a relative of Davis who attended the emotional ceremony, along with his own father, Academy cadets, and other military luminaries. “Our family cut the ribbon and unveiled the first monument on campus named after a person of color,” he told Fortune by email.
A commitment to diversity seems to run in their family. That there continues to be a need for it, runs in all of ours.
The Davis Barracks joins a rarified group of important buildings named for famous West Point graduates, including the generals Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and yes, Robert E. Lee. Since the terrible events of Charlottesville, the calls to have the Lee barracks renamed have been growing. But Lee wasn’t just a graduate, he was also the Academy’s superintendent from 1852-1855. It’s going to be an interesting debate.
That's an oblique way of saying that of course, there is much more work to do. But in these difficult times, it’s worth letting General Davis and his family enjoy the spotlight for a spell, as he is remembered by an institution who played an outsized role in causing him unnecessary pain. (Again, the video is quite stirring.) Davis took the best of what was available to him and turned himself into a leader of unflagging dedication and courage, which is a beautiful legacy to share with the cadets who will now sleep under his roof.
For the rest of us, the new memorial offers a small measure of proof that the gratitude of a nation will not ever be diminished by the truth.
Nothing is happening at HUD, and that's a problem
New York magazine and ProPublica have teamed up for this in-depth look at Housing and Urban Development under the leadership of Dr. Ben Carson. There are all sorts of interesting details, such as the fact that Carson's son, who is not on staff, plays an unofficial role as a quasi-ombudsman of sorts. But more importantly, the piece examines a great dismantling, by accident or design, of the single most important agency for low-income Americans who want to be able to afford to live indoors. It is a mandate that has become even more urgent, now that housing-affordability is at crisis levels across the country. “HUD has emerged as the perfect distillation of the right’s antipathy to governing,” the authors write. “If the great radical-conservative dream was, in Grover Norquist’s famous words, to “drown government in a bathtub,” then this was what the final gasps of one department might look like.”
Racist public symbols are everywhere, but you knew that
The Guardian recently asked their readers to submit the racist statues and symbols they live with every day. Several interesting themes emerged from the impressive hodgepodge of submissions. Although most were related to the Confederacy, not all were in Confederate states. Many submissions showed Native Americans in positions of weakness, being dominated by missionaries or settlers. And, I could have lived without knowing that Wetback Tank and Squaw Tit are actual places. (Also Hebe Canyon and “too many Coons to count,” according to NBC News.)
After 130 years, three Native boys return home
Philly.com continues its run of extraordinary reporting, with Jeff Gammage’s recent piece about the somber re-internment of three Native boys who died in Pennsylvania, far from their Wyoming home on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The boys had been taken from their families to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School some 130 years ago. “The nation’s first federal off-reservation boarding school worked to ‘civilize’ Indian children by erasing their languages, religions, and family bonds. Beatings were a common punishment, and epidemics killed boys and girls already weakened by hard labor,” says Gammage. The boys, Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume, were found among hundreds of other graves on the site and identified through their DNA. Ongoing efforts to identify and return other children are being closely watched by tribes, who hope it is a sign of goodwill from the U.S. government. Bring tissues.
UK to Twitter: Stop the hate speech already
Britain’s leading women’s rights non-profit and an advocacy group called Reclaim The Internet, believe Twitter is taking too long to remove sexist, violent, obscene and anti-Semitic attacks against many of its high-profile users, including members of the British government. The Fawcett Society, which has origins as a 19th century suffrage organization, is co-publishing a report detailing the abuse, which includes threats of rape and violence against MPs and campaigners, and abuse aimed specifically at Muslim people. “Twitter claims to stop hate speech but they just don’t do it in practice. Vile racist, misogynist and threatening abuse gets reported to them, but they are too slow to act so they just keep giving a platform to hatred and extremism. It’s disgraceful and irresponsible.” Big legal changes are in the works in the U.K., click through for more.
The Woke Leader
Pakistan hates Malala
Not everyone, of course. But to an astonishing degree, the Nobel Prize winner and education advocate is seen as a traitor to her nation. “In media interviews over the last few years, Pakistanis of various stripes — students, traders, shop owners, journalists, housewives, and even rights activists — have registered their disapproval of Malala,” boycotting her books and creating national “I am not Malala” campaigns. And conspiracy theories abound as to the true story of her near death at the hands of an armed assassin. Many believe that the CIA, not the Taliban, shot her.
The Making of Dylann Roof
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah has done the near impossible with this profile of Dylann Roof, the young white terrorist who opened fire on 12 black human beings worshipping in the basement of their Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. She has honored the memory of the dead and the horror of the maimed by seeking to learn what made Roof into the murderer he became. With straightforward observation and sensitive reporting, she knocked on doors – his father Benn Roof, his former classmates, his grade school principal, his grandfather’s pastor among them. Ghansah, a black woman unknown to the community, began to pull out pieces of a puzzle, of a slow-witted boy who had been sorted out early into the working class “white trash” pile at school, and who became ultimately become obsessed with his racial purity as proof of a status denied. Roof is, in every sense, the monster next door. A must read.
On grieving at work
Grief is more than just a temporary condition. It is a form of invisible disability, causing people to spiral into anxiety, depression, become withdrawn or scattered. But few companies have clear policies on bereavement leave and fewer ideas about how to help employees in crisis. It gets very complicated, very quickly. “The take all the time you need,” approach can do more harm than good, suggests Jennifer Moss, of Plasticity Labs. She offers several tips on becoming a more responsive workplace, and all of them involve an authentic willingness to confront the truth. It helps grieving people feel less alone. “It’s critical for business leaders to make understanding grief part of other trainings that employees get on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and so on,” she says.